Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thunderhead and Rocky Top

Appalachian Trail Backpack Weekend – 10/26/08 – Day Three – AT from Derrick Knob Shelter to Bote Mountain Trail/Anthony Creek Trail – 11.5 Miles

I was actually the last person out of the sleeping bag this morning at the remarkable hour of 7:40 AM. (I was awake for a while listening to everyone else moving around.) There was a light frost and it was cold. No peppermint schnapps to start the day, just hot tea (thanks to Mike), and almost before I knew it the five guys were waving goodbye and heading on towards Clingmans Dome, the direction we had come from the day before. Mike and I departed the shelter at 9:00 AM. On today’s menu was a little bit more mileage than yesterday and a lot more elevation change and Thunderhead Mountain was looming large.

For some reason the pack was heavier today. The toughest climb turned out to be up Brier Knob, which was about a million miles long and a million feet steep (actually 700 feet ascent in .6 miles). When left on my own, I would go a little too fast and then have to stop for a count of 12 deep breaths and begin again. But the views were breathtaking, down into Bone Valley on the NC side and down into Wear Valley on the TN side. How cool is that, to walk along the state line at the top of the world?

Then we marched up Thunderhead Mountain to the benchmark stating that we were at 5,527 feet. There is a small pile of rocks to stand on to see above the rhododendron that covers this mountaintop. As Mike was taking my picture by the Thunderhead Mountain sign, a young guy came by, a southbound (SOBO) thru-hiker on the AT. His name was Skeeter and he had left Mt. Katahdin on June 13, expected to finish at Springer Mountain in 8 more days. Skeeter wore shorts and a tee shirt and was moving pretty darn fast. I was quite surprised to meet a southbounder at this time of the year.

Just a few steps from the tip-top of Thunderhead Mountain the world opened wide to a field where mountain laurel blooms in the summertime and we could see down into Cades Cove. A short while later we were standing on top of Rocky Top – yes, THAT Rocky Top – and we decided that there was no better place to have lunch. We sat in the sun and I was sorely tempted to lie down in the grass and take a nap! This was truly a highlight of all my hiking in the Smokies. (Since I didn't have my camera, click here to see a great website and photos of Thunderhead and Rocky Top.)

After eating, we walked on through Spence Field and somewhat reluctantly turned off of the AT onto Bote Mountain Trail. Mike had told me a little bit about the origin of the name and I later looked it up in Hiking Trails of the Smokies, which describes a time in the 1850’s when a road was to be built from the valley in Tennessee up to the state line and the Cherokee Indians were asked for their opinion. “Legend has it that the Indians selected this ridge rather than the one to the east as the best route for the road. They chose by voting (Cherokees reportedly were unable to voice the “V” sound). So they “boted” for Bote Mountain and the other crest became known as Defeat Ridge.”

Today Bote Mountain Trail is a wide, moderately sloped and very rocky horse trail and should have been fairly easy, but the rocks got to me and I was happy to get off onto Anthony Creek Trail. (Maybe I was just tired of carrying a heavy pack.) Anthony Creek winds down until it is a flat creek walk and we finally strolled into the Cades Cove picnic area. The place was packed on this Sunday afternoon with families and groups cooking out and throwing Frisbees.

We walked about a half mile further to Mike’s car at the ranger’s station and I did the happy dance when I put down my pack, took off my boots and put my Crocs on my poor tired feet. We were just pulling out of the parking lot when we saw people coming out of the camp store with soft ice cream cones! So…we got ourselves some chocolate ice cream to fortify us for the drive back up to Clingmans Dome to my car.

At the Clingmans parking lot, we swapped gear, checked under the seats, said our goodbyes and Mike headed home to Charlotte. I had a dinner date with Danny and Lenny in at Calhoun’s in Gatlinburg (they had been hiking in the Smokies all weekend too). Then I crawled into bed at my little hideaway hotel and rested up for one more day of hiking…tomorrow.

How To Stay Warm

Appalachian Trail Backpack Weekend – 10/25/08 – Day Two – Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail and AT to Derrick Knob Shelter – 10 miles

The rain did stop by morning and once we got out of our warm tents we hustled to go find a hot breakfast in Gatlinburg. Then we stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to file our backcountry permit (we had reservations at Derrick Knob Shelter) and to prepare our packs. The blue sky was increasing, but we had decisions to make based on the weather forecast – clear but cold, getting down to the low 30’s in the high elevations. I was concerned that my sleeping bag was not going to be warm enough. It was rated at 20 degrees but was ten years old and had seen lots of use and not much care. An even bigger concern was my ever-present hot flashes.

Now, I know you all are tired of hearing about the hot flashes, right? But they can be a serious problem in cold weather because that few minutes of heat produces perspiration, and when the heat leaves what is left is damp skin and a terrible chill. (Mike now knows more than he ever cared to about hot flashes.) In a tent by myself I could throw the sleeping bag off and then back on all night, but in a shelter with other people it’s a different matter. So this is what I packed:

Sleeping bag
Silk bag liner
Little fleece blanket from my last plane trip
1 microfleece jacket
1 midweight fleece jacket
1 polyester tank top
1 short-sleeved wicking shirt
2 base layer capilene shirts
1 base layer capilene long underwear
1 heavyweight long underwear
2 pairs Smartwool socks
1 fleece hat with ear flaps
1 pair of fleece gloves

This is all in addition to what I was wearing to hike in. This stuff is incredibly lightweight, though, so adding in 2 liters of water, my food (I don’t carry much and should probably carry more), a stove, fuel, and various other things, I think my pack was about 25-27 pounds.

Off we went to the Clingmans Dome parking lot. Mike had brought his camera (more about that later) and spent a few minutes photographing the incredible view. This time, instead of being fogged in, the clouds were below us with the lower mountains peeking out -- awesome. Then we walked up the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail and stepped onto the Appalachian Trail.

Mike had not seen any of the Smokies shelters since they began renovations so we stopped to inspect Double Spring Shelter.  Double Spring is very cool, in an open area and facing southeast with lots of sun. It even has a privy (not all of them do) and Mike took a photo of me in it. We hiked on and stopped at Silers Bald Shelter to eat a little lunch. Here Mike taught me how to pick up and put on a loaded backpack without struggling or falling over or standing on my head – one of the most valuable lessons I learned on this trip.

We walked on towards Derrick Knob Shelter, each in our own thoughts and a few minutes apart, tagging up at shelters or at trail intersections. The weather was gorgeous and the trail was covered in fallen leaves making a crispy, crunchy sound as I walked. My concerns about being warm at night were keeping me from fully enjoying the day and I felt a little down. I realized that it was nearly three months since my dad passed away, and then memories of both his and my mother’s passing occupied me and my mood began to go further downhill. The idea of this hiking project had begun partly in response to my mother’s death, but who would have thought that I would lose my dad during the process? With no offense meant to Mike, I began to pray that some other people would be at our shelter to distract me and help lift my mood. I did not want to cry on Mike’s shoulder.

As often happens, God answers prayers by sending people. At the shelter there were two men and soon the other three in their group arrived. They were from Columbia/Lexington, South Carolina and were long-time friends on a lifetime plan to section hike the AT. I will not use their names to protect the innocent. They started a roaring fire in the fireplace (something Mike and I would not have done) and kept it going. Several of the guys were Boy Scout leaders so we had much in common and stories to share. I passed around my little business card for Smoky Scout and told them about my project. (Hey, guys, if you’re reading this, you promised to make donations, remember?)

And these guys were not even scheduled to be at Derrick Knob that night - the rain had held them back a day... Before we started to boil water for dinner, Mike announced that he had a surprise and asked if I had brought a cup. Well, no, but the lid of my wide-mouth water bottle would do, and he poured out peppermint schnapps for medicinal purposes to warm us up. (Later on I saw the guys passing around a plastic flask of what was probably iced tea.) We cooked, ate, cleaned up and then sat around talking. Ladies, you should know that when a bunch of men get together overnight, they are just like us in discussing bodily functions and issues and “products”. I learned that Gold Bond powder is a thoughtful gift for any occasion.

I watched the backcountry TV (the fire) until I could no longer delay getting in that sleeping bag.  The Boy Scouts were spread out on the lower bunk and Mike and I had the top bunk to ourselves.  The wind whistled through the boards.  I told Mike I was afraid I wouldn't be warm enough.  He carefully and graciously said, "You do whatever you need to do to stay warm."  I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed down to the lower bunk, told the Boy Scouts to skootch over, and made a place for myself in the middle.

I put my rain jacket inside a stuff sack for a pillow, pushed my midweight fleece jacket into the bottom of my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm, and put on all the clothing listed above. (I changed out of the day’s hiking clothes because they were damp.) I popped in my ear plugs and slept very well. When a hot flash would come on, I would stick my arms out of the sleeping bag, and when it passed I would scrunch back down inside and go back to sleep. Warmer would have been good, but it was better than I had expected. The silk liner made a tremendous difference. I didn’t even wake up for the mouse that was running around.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rainy Day Hiking

Appalachian Trail Backpack Weekend – 10/25/08 – Day One – Lead Cove Trail/Bote Mountain Trail/ West Prong Trail – 9.7 Miles

Okay, okay, so most of you have figured out by now that my trips usually include more than one section of the Park. This trip began with the need to place a car at the Cades Cove ranger station where we would come out at the end of an overnight backpack along the AT from Clingmans Dome. Since we are in the neighborhood, we decided to do a little hiking.

My hiking buddy for the weekend was Mike, a member of the Carolina Berg Wanderers in Charlotte. He completed the Smokies 900 a while back, section hiked the entire AT, section biked the entire Blue Ridge Parkway, does trail building on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and many other accomplishments. It takes a while to get all this information out of Mike because he is not very talkative – except when he is stuck with one hiking partner for three days. Then you can cover a lot of topics. Suffice it to say that Mike is the expert and I am the amateur in the outdoor world.

We left Charlotte early Friday morning, driving two cars because I would be staying (as usual) an extra day or two. I had made reservations at Smokemont Campground for one night because Elkmont Campground was full, which was pretty inconvenient considering we had to put a car at Cades Cove. (Do you have your map out to see what I’m talkin’ about?) Anyway, since it was on the way, we stopped at Elkmont to talk to the nice rangers and – yes – they did have a cancellation – yes – they could move our reservation from Smokemont – yes – we could set our tents up right then while it was not raining. Yes! Moral: Do not ever give up on scoring a campsite.

We hurried to get our tents up and discovered that we had the exact same type of tent – the good old Big Agnes Seedhouse 2. I began to feel some confidence that I am making some good equipment purchases. Then we took off to place cars for our hike du jour – remember, always take advantage of cars for shuttling. We left one at the West Prong Trail at Tremont and drove to the Lead Cove Trail on Laurel Creek Road. That is when I discovered that (sigh) I did not have my camera. Will I ever get my act together?

The hike can be summarized in a few words: up, rain, down, rain, splashing, cold rain, wet boots, wet socks, rain, rain, rain.

Now the long version: There were serious winds earlier in the day and all the trails were littered with broken branches. Mike was throwing debris off the trails left and right, but if we had tried to clear it all then we would still be there today. We went up Lead Cove, then turned right and up Bote Mountain Trail to the intersection with Anthony Creek, then back down Bote Mountain all the way to West Prong Trail. By then the rain was steady and even in rain gear we were pretty wet. There was a moment of interest on West Prong where the trail was deceptively hard to find going through Campsite 18 (which is the biggest backcountry campsite area I have seen yet). There were three guys camped there with a tarp strung up by a dozen ropes at eye level – I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them got decapitated stumbling around at night. The other excitement happened along the same trail when Mike pointed and I saw the back half of a bear scampering off into the woods. Mike swore it was two turkeys, but I saw a bear’s rear end and two legs. And in my blog a bear counts more, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Finally back at the car, we hurried into Townsend looking for a gas station with heated bathrooms to change into dry clothes. Then we had a terrific meal at the Back Porch (which Jim and I had discovered on our trip in June.) There was a guy playing his guitar and singing and we stayed as long as decently possible before we had to go back to our wet campsite. In my tent I listened to the wind and rain and prayed for it to be over before morning.

Since I did not have a camera to record this rainy day, here are some leaf photos from my last outing. Enjoy!

Going Up The Chimneys

Clingmans Dome Hikes – 10/14/08 – Day Five – Road Prong Trail/Chimney Tops Trail – 5.5 Miles 

 After a semi-restful night’s sleep in camp, Judy and I packed up and headed out, leaving a car at the Chimney Tops trailhead and driving on to Clingmans Dome Road once again, this time for the Road Prong Trail beginning at Indian Gap. I was in awe of the picture-perfect blue sky for yet another day on the trail. Hiking Trails of the Smokies (that little brown book) describes Road Prong Trail as an old roadbed, at one time “the main route between Sevierville, TN and Cherokee, NC, and it was called the Oconaluftee Turnpike. Tolls were charged for wagons (25-75 cents), pigs and sheep (1 cent each), cows (2 cents each), and horse and rider (6-1/4 cents).” Road Prong Trail was “first a trade road and later a strategic route for the Civil War.”

Well, at the top end of Road Prong Trail it’s hard to imagine that anything other than foot traffic and maybe a horse or two walked this route. It is very rocky, steep and wet. Road Prong, after all, is the name of the creek that runs beside the trail and it often IS the trail. We had a few moments of losing and finding the trail on the other side. It was obvious that flooding had created a log jam and the trail had to be rerouted. It was fun picking our way, though, because we were going downhill and not in a hurry.

Road Prong Trail intersects with Chimney Tops Trail, and there we turned left to ascend to Chimney Tops. I had climbed this trail with Jim several years ago in April when millions of white fringed phacelia were blooming.

The Chimney Tops Trail is very easily accessible from Newfound Gap Road so lots and lots of people hike it. If you start at the Newfound Gap trailhead there is a great sign letting you know what reaching the top really means. I don’t want to sound like a hiking snob, but it is amusing and sometimes disheartening to see how many people take off on a hike without preparations, little or no water, improper shoes, no jacket, carrying small children – because it’s only 2 miles! But a lot can happen in 2 miles even to a prepared hiker and safety is of ultimate importance.

So here we go up the Chimney Tops Trail and I am happy to report that the climb did not seem so difficult this time, surely because I am in much better condition this time around. The trail ascends along Sugarland Mountain, where Judy and Danny and I had hiked the day before, before it cuts to the next ridge and out to the Chimneys. There are several quick switchbacks and just as many places where people have cut through, and at those spots there are signs stating “This is NOT a trail.” This trail is being loved to death. Near the top the trees are hanging onto the narrow ridge with elaborate root systems.

To our disappointment (we had not yet seen the sign because we got on the trail from another point), the trail is closed at the base of the rock pinnacle and I am not a rock climber. We started up, but realized that coming down would not be fun so we stopped where we were and had lunch and enjoyed the view. Only a few people ventured very far past where we were. We will definitely have to come back to Chimney Tops when (if?) the trail is reopened.

We followed the Chimney Tops Trail all the way back down to Newfound Gap Road and Judy’s car, enjoying the many crossings of Road Prong and then Walker Prong, all on bridges. Then we went to Clingmans Dome Road to retrieve my car. At this point we decided to call it a day and I turned my car toward Charlotte. I did sneak a couple of pictures on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Balsam Mountain on the drive.

It was time to go home. I had been away for five days and my son was coming for a visit during his college’s fall break. I made it home just in time for dinner.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

It's a Small, Small World

Clingmans Dome Hikes – 10/13/08 – Day Four – Sugarland Mountain Trail/Rough Creek Trail/Little River Trail to Campsite 30 and Back/Little River Trail/Cucumber Gap Trail – 16.3 Miles

Danny and I were up before the sun and driving to Clingmans Dome Road. Today we were meeting up with Judy to hike 16 miles downhill (well, mostly downhill.) We were a little bit early so we pulled over at Newfound Gap for a quick look. Note: Don’t ever become complacent about the views – stop every chance you get because next time you may not be able to see your hand in front of your face.

We joined a handful of people, some setting up tripods and toting large, professional looking cameras, and the early morning view was both humbling and peaceful. I took a few pictures and we started back towards my car.  Suddenly we heard gasping, and turned back around to see the sun popping up over the mountain to the left. What a sight! How naïve we were to think that we had seen it all. This was my first bonafide sunrise experience from such a vantage point in the Smokies.

Judy was right on time and we set off on the AT for .2 miles to the Sugarland Mountain trailhead. This was the first time Judy and Danny had met and there was lots of getting-

to-know-you conversation. The sun was out for the fourth day in a row, the leaves were still a-changin’ and we had a great walk as Danny taught me lessons on how to use her GPS to track our route. We followed Sugarland Mountain for 4.8 miles that included narrow ridges with sheer drops and many glimpses of the mountains to the right side, including Chimney Tops (where Judy and I were planning to hike the next day). The yellow leaves made a carpet on the trail.

We turned left onto Rough Creek Trail, the section of today’s hike that Danny needed to complete. This trail, like so many in the Smokies, was built by the CCC over a former railroad bed. While the trail is steep at times, several places we passed seemed like obvious sites for homes or logging camps. We saw these fruits of the hearts-a-burstin’ shrub along this trail.

Very soon we arrived at the intersection of Rough Creek Trail and Little River Trail, and I needed to turn left and follow Little River Trail up (yes, up, even though I said it was all downhill) to its terminus at Campsite 30. Actually, there is not very much uphill but there is a lot of creek walking, including three big crossings. We met a couple hiking up from Elkmont that had tried this route in the past and turned back because of the high water at the last crossing before the campsite. Danny had also seen this water very high and was curious about what it would look like today. Answer: we didn’t get wet, but we could see how you probably would in even a little bit of rain. See Judy being careful?

  Did you know that every backcountry campsite has a name as well as a number? Campsite 30 is called Three Forks, and we could see the three rivers that come together here. My little brown book says that creeks around have names like Spud Town, Rattler, Devil and Snake Tongue. No names like Rosebud or Butterfly…Here is Danny photographing a little cascade along one of the creeks.

We backtracked to the intersection and continued on down Little River Trail and turned left on Cucumber Gap. Now, here was some “up” for the day, about 500 feet up and then 500 feet back down in 2.4 miles. Cucumber Gap Trail makes a nice loop from Elkmont when combined with Little River Trail. At the last intersection of the day we turned right for a short bit on Jakes Creek Trail and cruised down the hill to Danny’s car, right where we had left it the afternoon before.

We stopped at the Elkmont Campground, where Judy and I reserved a site for that night, and then rode with Danny back to my car on Clingmans Dome Road. From there Danny headed on home. The sightseeing traffic was getting busy again (guess I didn’t tell you how insane it was the day before) so Judy and I opted to cook something at the campground rather than look for a restaurant. We got set up, bought ice and firewood, and we walking away from our site to find the bathrooms when the couple from the next site strolled by and said hello. They said they had seen our tents and thought we must be serious campers and/or thru-hikers. I said, “Well, not me, but Judy here has done quite a bit of the AT.” The guy said, “We thru-hiked it in 2006.” Well, don’t you know, Judy gave her trail name (Heartfire) and it turns out they all met in 2006 walking in the woods! What a small/big/wonderful/beautiful/fascinating world it is!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Me And My Shadow

Clingmans Dome Hikes – 10/12/08 – Day Three – Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail/Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome to Newfound Gap – 8.5 Miles

We woke up today to natural light around 7:30 a.m., ate a quick breakfast and packed up camp. I was a little apprehensive about hiking today since yesterday seemed so difficult, but I had a short hike planned, not very strenuous, and I could take my time. I was going to try out my new trail runners one more time. Jim was very happy because he had plans to ride his bike today up and down Clingmans Dome Road while I hiked.

The day was clearer than yesterday’s start. We left my car at the Newfound Gap parking area and arrived at the Clingmans Dome parking lot at the more reasonable hour of 9:30 a.m. It was extremely windy, though, and I wondered if cycling was a great idea. Jim and I parted ways at the parking lot – he was heading back to Charlotte after his bike ride and I was going to Gatlinburg to meet Danny after my hike. As I got out of the car I realized that I had left my hiking poles in my car at Newfound Gap – too late to retrieve them, but I felt it would be okay – it would have to be!

I started up the half-mile Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail, which is simply a way of getting onto the AT without joining the masses on the paved trail to the observation tower. The views were magnificent and I was struck by how many seemingly healthy spruce firs there are now. The gray spikes of spruce fir trees killed by the balsam woolly adelgid insects are not so stark with the new trees growing in. I wonder how long the healthy trees will remain healthy?

I followed the AT around behind the observation tower and started on the mostly downhill trek towards Newfound Gap. The trail is very worn and rocky and felt surprisingly isolated, although it often comes within earshot of Clingmans Dome Road, and I did not meet any hikers until I was past Road Prong Trail. At a couple of places I turned around and could spot the observation tower back up on Clingmans Dome.

The wind continued to blow forcefully through the spruce-fir forest and I found myself humming a tune I had not thought of in years “Listen to the Wind Blow” on Sesame Street. I used to sing this song as I rocked my youngest child to sleep. This is the child that is now a freshman in college and on this particular day she was auditioning to join a winterguard team, so I was already thinking about her, and the strength of that memory of singing and rocking was so powerful that I’ll admit I shed some tears as I hummed and walked along. I miss you, Laura, and I’m proud of you. Time goes so fast, people, so make sure you are doing something that you love doing and will enjoy remembering.

I had no qualms about hiking alone today because (1) I was very close to the road and (2) Doug, the Park maintainer guy, had told me that no bears were this up this high at this time of the year, remember? But hiking alone is still…well, lonely. I kept feeling hot, then cold, then hot, then cold, and I finally learned to regulate my temperature simply by wearing and removing my hat. Hat on, hat off, hat on, hat off – I felt like the Karate Kid. Here is a photo of my hat and me on the AT (hey, that rhymes!) I like it because we look like the Statue of Liberty.

Small tragedy on the trail: at one point I realized that I no longer had my hat. It was not on my head and not in my pocket. Hmmmm…well, I couldn’t just leave it, it’s my favorite hat. So back we go – did I mention that this was at the top of the only uphill I had to do all day? Only about five minutes of back tracking and there lay my hat on the ground. We were very happy to be reunited.

Along this section of the AT there are numerous blowdowns of dead spruces and fir trees. I am curious as to whether most of them went down in one weather event. At first I took photos of the uprooted earth at each one, but they became more frequent and the root systems became larger and finally I just couldn’t fit them into the frame. You gotta see them to believe them. Overall, I loved my hike today and would recommend this section to anyone as being an easy and accessible shuttle. Heck, you can hike it both ways if you like (I suggest going up from Newfound Gap first and then back down. I’m a big fan of getting the “up” over with early.) And everything felt great – my shoes, my legs, my lungs. I didn’t even miss my poles. What a difference a night of rest makes.

Back at Newfound Gap, I joined the chaos of people in line for the bathrooms and then looking at the jaw- dropping view from the parking lot. Jim had left a note in my car that he had completed his bike ride (“crushed it”, meaning he did really well) and was on his way home. Then I headed to Gatlinburg, where Danny had reserved a hotel room (can you say “shower”??) for us to recover in comfort before venturing out again tomorrow. I got cleaned up and then hurried over to Elkmont to meet Danny coming off of an all-day hike in the area. The plan was to leave her car at that same spot overnight, and we would end up there once again at the end of tomorrow’s hike.

I got to Danny’s car, opened my trunk, set up my camp chair and was just beginning to have a snack when she came walking out of the woods – perfect timing! I was glad I had not dawdled in town. We spent the rest of the evening preparing for tomorrow, going over maps and routes, eating a terrific meal at The Trout House and strolling along the boardwalk atmosphere in Gatlinburg in search of ice cream (found it at Mayfield’s.)

All together now – another great day in the wonderful Smokies!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Guest Writer

Hello, this is Jim. I am Smoky Scout’s significant other. I am very proud her and find her blogs enter- taining. I thought it would be interesting to provide another point of view to our hike. Here is what was running around in my head for 19 miles:

Yikes, it’s dark but my watch says it’s 6:30… SmokyScout says it’s time to get up…at least I am not too sore from yesterday’s 18 miles…except for my “long toes’, the ones next to my big toes, they feel pretty beat up…look it too…SmokyScout is in a good mood for this early…I think she is trying to influence my mood…good luck…I love the outdoors and hiking but this is fanatical…just like me and cycling I guess…I’ll let SmokyScout drive to Clingmans…I’m sleepy and kinda grumpy…oh joy!! It’s cold and foggy up here…I’ll choke down this bagel and juice in the car while waiting for the sun…SmokyScout is still tolerant of my mood…I’m lucky to have her…all right, let’s start down the trail…SmokyScout has poles…are they worth the trouble to carry???...she says so…down, down, down the trail…at least I have a toy to play with, a new GPS…I’ll keep track of everywhere we go…yeah !! that’s the ticket, I’ll play with the GPS!!…very cool, damp and still foggy…down, down, down…crap, every step down means a step up later in the day…this hiking is waking me mood is better…still feeling quiet, though…down, down, down…my thighs feel it…my long toes are not happy…finally at the bottom…it’s sunny…actually it’s beautiful…where are we??...check the GPS…don’t trip…march, march, march…I start talking with SmokyScout…GPS says we are on schedule, ma’am…dang, a creek crossing..I’ll just hop across the rocks…no problem…SmokyScout, let me help you...too late…ah, you’re wearing wool socks, your feet will be fine...march, march, march…more creek crossings…I like the mental challenge of choosing the best path and the physical challenge of making it without falling in…I have a great sense of balance (in my mind at least)…hey, here’s a crossing with a very skinny footbridge but no railing…about 10’ high…what the heck, I’ll use it…why is SmokyScout rolling her eyes??…I made it, no problem…let’s eat…these cookies are crushed into crumbs...march, march, march…looks like we are headed back up…what’s the name of this trail?…up, up, up…I’m feeling pretty good…I’m just a soldier, point me in the right direction…up, up, up…I like this, it's like riding a bike uphill…heart is pounding, lungs are heaving, legs are burning…but I like it…up, up, up…uh oh, where is SmokyScout???...shoot, I got carried away…I need to wait…here she is...hmmm, we have switched roles…I feel great…the endorphins have kicked in…this is a high ridge trail…it’s beautiful…clear sky, fall colors, cool, gentle breeze…I love fall…glad the Hokies are not playing today…SmokyScout is looking pokey…need to pump her up…c’mon, let's get up this ridge…I can see Clingmans…you can do it…I’m starving…c’mon we are just about on top of Clingmans…I’m hungry…”on top of old Smoky, all covered with cheese”…GPS says 6300’ we are just about there!!!...crap!!! I see the observation tower on the next ridge, not this one…we are NOT there yet!!!...c’mon, SmokyScout, think of the girls you are helping…march, march, march…up, up, up….Napoleon, we have arrived!!.....march up the tower…great view but I am hungry…let’s go…down the path to the parking lot…yikes, this path is steep…hey, who is this crazy guy talking to SmokyScout…let’s go to Cherokee to eat…I am starving…hurray!!! there’s a pizza joint…I love pizza…I’m stuffed…let’s get to camp…it was a fun day…good night, SmokyScout…thanks for everything…zzzz

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Tough Day With A Surprise Ending (Get A Cup Of Coffee, This Is A Long Story)

Clingmans Dome Hikes – 10/11/08 – Day Two – Forney Ridge Trail/Forney Creek Trail/Jonas Creek Trail/Welch Ridge Trail/AT – 19 miles

Today would be a very long hike so Jim and I woke up in the dark and drove up to the Clingmans Dome parking lot. Surprisingly, there were more than a dozen cars already there, though none of them appeared to be hikers, just folks awaiting the sunrise and the view…although, as usual, Clingmans was covered in clouds. We ate a quick breakfast of bagels and OJ and made an executive decision. Today’s hike was Hike #2 in the Hazel Creek section of “The Day Hiker’s Guide” which the author admits is tough in either direction but she has written it going counterclockwise, beginning on the Appalachian Trail. But if we chose that direction we would be walking in the clouds, whereas if we chose the clockwise direction we would have great views from the AT at the end of the hike. So we went down the rabbit hole on Forney Ridge Trail.

There has been major rehab work on the Forney Ridge Trail down towards Andrews Bald and we could see the results on the mile we trekked before turning right onto Forney Creek Trail. Our gamble proved correct as we quickly dropped below the clouds. The first two miles of Forney Creek is fairly steep and at Campsite 68 we saw backpackers relaxing as the day cleared and warmed up. After the campsite the trail is not as steep and it becomes evident that it is an old railroad bed, wide and gentle with rock walls in some places, but we did negotiate our way through four serious blowdowns that need attention. And here is Jim at an odd spot where the creek bed is bone dry but he decided to walk across the 10-foot-high footlog where the hand rail had fallen off. (I took the safe route.)

Today we were both hiking in our running shoes, but we knew that we would face some major crossings of Forney Creek so we carried our water shoes. I also had my trusty hiking sticks, but Jim doesn’t have any. Usually he finds a nice walking stick to help him across streams, and as he was thinking aloud about needing to look for one we heard a loud cracking sound and – I cross my heart and hope to die – a stick fell out of a tree in front of us, just a straight stick with no leaves or branches. Really! 

Water shoes work best if you actually put them on your feet. We crossed the creek several times by easy rock hopping and mistakenly thought that we could get through the entire hike this way. Eventually we came to a sketchier crossing. I actually stood there and debated changing my shoes for an easy shallow stroll across a large section versus rock hopping, then decided to go for it. In the end, Jim hopped across and I…slipped and stepped in with both feet. On the other side I sat down to wring out my socks, pretty angry with myself for not simply using my water shoes that I was toting, and as I was muttering a couple of dads with several pre-teens walked up, rock-hopped across and continued on their merry way. Ah well… 

After that we did rock hop a few more times successfully, but I no longer trusted my footing and took a lot of time. For the crossing at the junction with Jonas Creek Trail Jim and I both put on water shoes. See how simple that was? Further up Jonas Creek Trail I was able to rock hop while Jim scooted across on a big log. Ouch!

Jim and I have different hiking styles. He is pretty fast and believes in going a little bit fast and then resting frequently. I like to hike slower and stop less frequently. He is also a slow starter in the mornings and has to be told to take the toothbrush back out of his mouth. I am strong and perky in the morning. So I got us to the trailhead and heading in the right direction…and when I began to seriously tank on Jonas Creek Trail, Jim kept me going. The latter half of our 19 miles was mostly uphill and my legs seemed to weigh 300 pounds each. I stopped and rested, I drank water and I ate, but nothing seemed to help. We were seeing the most wondrous views and colors, but I was miserable. I kept looking at my watch and calculating when we would get back to the car, very much worried that we would not get out before dark (we did). I pretty much ruined my own hike by too much clock-watching. I thought about how days like this make some people quit. But Jim kept coaching me along, telling me where we were on the GPS, how much elevation we were gaining, all the way up Jonas Creek, turning right on Welch Ridge (where he and I had been on our first hiking weekend back in April – hey, exactly six months ago today) and then finally turning right onto the AT. 

We had seen perhaps a dozen people all day, a busy day for hiking in the Smokies. On the AT we saw at least 15 more, some heading for Double Springs shelter, some dayhiking. We met one couple originally from Australia, currently managing an orphanage in Peru, and spending a week hiking the AT from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap. How interesting is that?! As we had hoped that morning, we saw beautiful clear views at many points in our 4 miles along the AT back to Clingmans Dome. I was still extremely tired and wanting to get the hike over with, but we got some great photos and arrived at the observation tower at about 6:00 PM – a 10-hour hike. Instead of taking the bypass trail back to our car, we chose to go up to the observation tower and then take the paved trail back down. The wind was very strong on the tower, chilly, and we did not stay long. 

Back down the paved trail, we stopped at the restrooms, and then I came outside to wait for Jim. I was feeling kind of down and disappointed with myself. I had three more days of hiking planned – could I recover in one night? I was walking along the pavement, dodging lots of people milling around, saw a Park ranger talking with a group …and then I heard someone yell: “SMOKY SCOUT!” 

Can you imagine? 

I looked around and saw a guy standing beside the Park ranger and smiling. I said, “Yes, how did you know it’s me”? And he says, I’m Smokies Hiker, and your picture is all over your blog.” Smokies Hiker is the mastermind of and a couple of weeks ago he completed hiking all of the trails in the GSMNP each in all four seasons, backwards and forwards, no assistance, no car shuttles, no key swaps, no overnights, and all in one year! And why am I complaining about how tough my day has been??? We have followed and commented on each other’s blogs, and it was unbelievably great to meet in person at Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Park (and the highest point of my day). 
For consolation after a tough day, Jim and I drove to Cherokee and found the Pizza Inn, where we consumed large quantities of pizza, breadsticks and soft drinks. Then it was back to camp (don’t forget the earplugs) and I played Scarlett O’Hara – I can’t think about anything right now, I’ll think about it tomorrow.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Yellow Day

Clingmans Dome Hikes – 10/10/08 – Day One – Spruce Mountain Trail and Hyatt Ridge/Enloe Creek/Hyatt Ridge/Beech Gap II – 17.7 Miles

Okay, okay, so these trails are nowhere near Clingmans Dome…but the rest of the hikes during this trip are!

Jim and I left Charlotte at the end of the work day on Thursday, driving two cars so that I could stay a couple of days longer and hike with Danny once Jim headed back home. We caught a few hours of sleep at a Maggie valley motel and as the sun was rising on Friday we drove to the Blue Ridge Parkway, out along Heintooga Ridge Road and onto the one-way Balsam Mountain Road looking for the Spruce Mountain Trail trailhead. This little trail once connected with Polls Gap trail (which then led to Polls Gap and Hemphill Bald) but now it ends at Campsite 42. As we walked to the campsite and back we could smell the evergreens and enjoy the sunshine of the beautiful day. I was very happy as this was the last trail I needed to complete before Balsam Mountain Road closes on November 1.

Continuing on down Balsam Mountain Road we reached Round Bottom Road and the Beech Gap II trailhead, where we left Jim’s car, and then on to Straight Fork Road. At the Hyatt Ridge trailhead we set out again. This is Hike #4 in the Balsam Mountain area of the “Day Hiker’s Guide.” The first 1.8 miles up Hyatt Ridge was surprisingly steep. I thought I was getting better at this, but I guess up is still up. Along this section we saw a mason jar – a remnant from moonshine days or left there by some weekend backpackers to fortify their trip back to their car?

Turning left on Enloe Creek Trail, we descended even more steeply down into Raven Fork Gorge until we came upon Raven Fork. The “brown book” or “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” tells us that this is one of the largest streams in the park that does not have a trail along it and it has a remarkable steel bridge across it.  The brown book describes how this area is prone to flash flooding and that the bridge was built several years after a backpacker died trying to ford Raven Fork during high water. We stopped here for a snack and chatted with the two fishermen who were camping for the weekend at Campsite #47 on the far side of the bridge. One of the fellows saw Jim’s Virginia Tech hat – turns out he is a Hokie too.

We continued on past the campsite and hiked to the intersection of Enloe Creek and Hughes Ridge Trail. From here was just a 5.6-mile hike to Smokemont Camp- ground, where we would be camping the next two nights…but we had miles to go so we turned around and backtracked crossing the bridge again and going up, up, up out of Raven Fork Gorge. The leaf color on this trail (really everywhere we went today) was magnificent, with enough green leaves left to make everything else pop. People keep wanting to know when THE peak leaf day is – well, on Balsam Mountain it was October 10. I took many photos of individual leaves on the ground and overhead.

  Back at the intersection we turned left to continue on Hyatt Ridge Trail and followed it to its terminus at Campsite #44. (At one time the trail continued on up the ridge to intersect with Balsam Mountain Trail.) Campsite 44 looked seldom used, and a fallen tree had knocked down the bear bag cables. I later contacted the Park service about this, but who knows when they will have a chance to repair this? I would hate to arrive at this site expecting to hang my pack on cables and then have to fool with stringing ropes…but it’s a good reminder to always have rope with you. The dying ferns along this trail were the pale yellow color of hay.

Once again we backtracked out from the campsite, this time turning left onto Beech Gap II Trail for the long steep walk down to Jim’s car. We were getting tired and hungry and wanted to get our tent site set up before dark so we were hurrying down the mountain, but still we stopped often to marvel at the predominantly yellow leaves. The late afternoon light slanted through and cast a pale yellow glow everywhere.

As we came out of the woods onto Round Bottom Road we stopped to talk with a couple of fly fishermen. Several backpackers came across the bridge from the Beech Gap I trail and a group of mountain bikers passed us. This quiet little gravel road was quite busy with people enjoying the day in many different ways.

We got to our reserved campsite at Smokemont. The campground was full and we had a family of excited small children on one side and a family with teenagers behind us, so it would be a noisy night in camp, but at least these folks were outside instead of playing video games or watching TV, right? My trusty tent was newly waterproofed and the poles with the deteriorated shot cords (guess I didn’t tell you about that, did I?) were duct taped together and everything worked great. We ate, changed, crawled into sleeping bags, popped in the ear plugs and passed out for the night. Aaaahhhhh.....And it wasn’t even cold.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rich Mountain

Townsend Base Camp – 10/3/08 – Day Three – Rich Mountain Trail/Indian Gap Trail/Scott Mountain Trail Plus a Little Bit More of Indian Gap Trail – 9.9 Miles

I woke up on Day Three with an itchy, red, slightly swollen spot at the site of my yellow jacket attack. The spot was about two inches in diameter and spread a little more during the rest of the day. I took some Benadryl and am alive to write this so I conclude that I had a mild reaction, but knowing that the next time may be worse, I will be sure to keep the Benadryl with me.

Once again we were up and out by first light, not because we had so many miles to hike but because we had to run the Cades Cove gauntlet before too many folks got there. Danny had directions for a little-known entry to the Park near the Schoolhouse Gap/Scott Mountain trailheads where we would leave my car for the end of our hike. We found what we thought was the spot and, just to be safe, we walked about a quarter-mile up the gravel road to make sure. I had been to the Schoolhouse Gap trailhead back in June so I figured I would remember it. (There is a home there at the curve in the road, and the owner told Jim and me how to get to the caves and White Oak Sinks from there.) And I did recognize it, but I was very glad that we checked it out, because otherwise I would have come off of the trail and headed down the gravel road in the wrong direction looking for our car.

(These descriptions of shuttling and car placement may be tedious to some of you, but others know how valuable the info can be – and how messed up things are if you get it wrong. Plus it’s kind of interesting to find how many ways there are to reach trailheads.)

Then we headed back through Townsend and over to Cades Cove. Along Laurel Creek Road we paused to watch a mama bear and cub casually cross the road. I was very brave. Then we joined the rather small parade snaking around Cades Cove Road and turned right onto Rich Mountain Road (one-way heading out of the Park and closed beginning Nov 16) and up to Indian Grave Gap Trail. Danny needed to hike the 1.1-mile piece of it that connects to the Rich Mountain Loop Trail. This area can be quite confusing, with Rich Mountain Road, Rich Mountain Trail and Rich Mountain Loop Trail. Even though everything is well marked with signs (all with the same name…) maps and compass are very important! Here is a photo down into Cades Cove from Rich Mountain Road.

This 1.1-mile section of Indian Grave Gap Trail – horse trail, not too exciting. Are we getting jaded and cynical?

Back into the car and a few miles farther up the one-way road to the Park boundary and the Rich Mountain Trail trailhead. Rich Mountain was also a horse trail, but quickly took on the character of a regular hiking trail and was a surprisingly steep upward hike of 2.3 miles. Maybe the last two days were catching up with me? At the intersection we stopped for a little lunch (check for yellow jacket nests!) As we munched, two folks on horses came up from the same trail, chatted briefly and then went back the same way. Hope they were going somewhere else instead of just that short distance.

As we went on our way along this section of Indian Grave Gap Trail we caught many glimpses down to Townsend on the left and into Cades Cove on the right of the ridge. (Click on this photo to see Townsend through the trees.) We passed three hikers, looked like two grandpas and a 10-year-old grandson. Again, we were happy to see others out enjoying the Park. When we turned left onto Scott Mountain Trail we thought we would cruise through the last 3.6 miles back down to the car, but this trail was a surprise. It appeared to be very seldom used, almost abandoned for the most part, and I think in the winter, especially with snow, it would be extremely hard to follow. At times we walked across very steep slopes on a path only as wide as one foot, with hiking poles swiping at the air on one side. We did find one cool little cave that could keep you dry if necessary. Nearer to the end of the trail it was more distinguished, and I wondered if the man who lives there takes some time to maintain that part.

When we got back to the gravel road we sat at the picnic table for a snack, then walked down to my car. Just a quick trip to retrieve Danny’s car now at the Rich Mountain trailhead… again, not as easy as we thought, as our directions were sketchy and we had to ask someone to point the way. Rich Mountain Road outside the Park becomes two ways and is called Old Cades Cove Road (a helpful hint, huh?) 

So this was a day with not too many hiking miles but some driving miles as we found our trails. Danny and I parted ways, as I was heading home and she was planning to stay and hike for two more days. It was a very successful outing in many ways and Danny and I will be back on the trails very soon!

New Personal Record

Townsend Base Camp – 10/2/08 – Day Two – Middle Prong Trail/Greenbrier Ridge/Appalachian Trail/Miry Ridge/Jakes Creek Trail – 19 Miles

Today Danny and I were both repeating some trail sections in an effort to get at some new ones and we were energized for a climb up to the Appalachian Trail. We had left her car at the end of Jakes Creek Trail yesterday and were starting from Middle Prong Trail today, on the trail by 7:45 a.m. Jim and I had been here in June and I was sincerely looking forward to walking by the river again and hiking on Miry Ridge to the overlook where we had been so overwhelmed by the mountain laurel blooming. Imagine what the fall colors would look like from there! This time on Middle Prong I made sure to look for the spur trail to Indian Flats Falls, which looked like a delightful swimming hole when the weather is a little warmer.

From Middle Prong Trail we turned right onto Greenbrier Ridge Trail and the 4.2 miles up seemed almost effortless. I find that when I am out front I go too fast and tire myself out, but Danny sets the perfect pace and I’m happy for her to lead the way. Here she is taking a well-deserved break before we hit the ridgeline. (BTW, today was Danny's birthday! What better way to spend a birthday than out in the sunshiny Smokies?)

At the end of Greenbrier Ridge Trail we turned left and started a short section of the Appalachian Trail. The AT always has that magical quality and on the narrow ridge I could look down into the valleys on either side of the trail. The temperature was perfect, the sky was blue, the clouds were white, the leaves were yellow and red and orange and green, and I was smiling as we walked along – all the way up until the time I got stung by a yellow jacket, right through my shirt sleeve on my upper right arm. That sucker was holding on and it took three swipes to get him off. Danny is allergic to bee stings, so we both took off running as best we could up the trail to get away from whatever nest had been disturbed. (This photo is of a typical yellow jacket nest I saw later along the trail). I had liquid Benadryl with me, but I have never been stung before so I waited to see what the reaction was. It hurt like crazy but no redness or swelling was developing. At the next intersection we sat down to eat a little lunch and take a better look at the sting, making sure to sit in the middle of the trail and not near any logs or places that might hide a nest.

As we were sitting down a backpacker appeared. We said hello and he decided to take a lunch break with us. His name was Doug and he was a Parks employee, a trail maintainer, and he was doing a five-day hike around the park during his off days. A former stockbroker (!) he has made a vocation of his avocation. Doug is an AT thru-hiker from 1992, trail name Free Agent. Doug talked a little about his work and told us to notice the improvements along Jakes Creek Trail on our way down, as this was a trail improved as part of the Trails Forever program. I asked about bears (of course…should I change my trail name to Bear Chicken?) Doug assured me that there were no bears in the high elevations now because all the berries were gone and they were now nearer the valleys…which, of course, you still have to walk through to get to the higher elevations. But for some reason, Doug's opinion made me feel much better.

As we chatted, two more backpackers came through but only paused to say hello before continuing on. We warned everyone that yellow jackets were still active even at this elevation and cooler temps. It’s great to see other hikers out in the Park, not just for a feeling of safety but because that is what it was established for, to be used and enjoyed and therefore maintained and preserved. In fact, we saw fellow hikers every day on this trip.

My sting was apparently not life- threatening, so Danny and I soon set off down the Miry Ridge Trail. I could not resist taking a series of photos of leaves on the ground, but eventually I had to put the camera away, because we did need to get to our car before dark. We passed the junction with Lynn Camp Prong Trail and then came to the overlook I had been antici- pating. We walked up the spur trail to the right, with me saying, "Don’t turn around yet, don’t turn around yet." Then when we turned around – WOW! Colors still just beginning to turn, but it was a stunning panorama.

Next I must come here in the snow…

The hiking seemed effortless on the downhill too. We were not intentionally hurrying, just walking at a natural pace and enjoying the day. We turned right onto Jakes Creek Trail and did notice the trail improvements, including water bars (troughs dug across the trail to divert water) and turnpikes (logs laid on either side of the trail to make a frame and filled in with fine gravel) to repair water and horse erosion. Without trying to set any record other than getting back before dark, we came to Danny’s car at about 5:20 p.m., so we had walked 19 miles in about 8.75 hours. We drove through the restoration area of the Elkmont cottages on our way out to Little River Road, stopping to chat with a Parks employee there. (Click here for a great summary by Al Smith on the Elkmont cottages.)

19 miles, a personal best for me, and even better, ice cream in Townsend and a warm bed to sleep in - Yippee!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Connecting Dots

Townsend Base Camp – 10/1/08 – Day One – Flat Creek Trail and Grapeyard Ridge/Baskins Creek Trails - 12.9 Miles

By Tuesday the gas issues seemed to be improving, so I planned to hike for a few days with Danny Bernstein. I met Danny in the fall of 2007 as I was exploring my hiking project idea. She is an accomplished author ("Hiking the Carolina Mountains"), hiker and trip leader for Carolina Mountain Club and she is closing in on becoming a 900-miler, with about 80 miles left – 80 miles in bits and pieces all over the Smokies map. Here is a person as motivated as I am to do crazy shuttles!

I spent Tuesday night at Danny’s house and we set out early on Wednesday morning with an ambitious agenda. We drove two cars, which at first may sound excessive considering the gas problems, but we were able to efficiently accomplish quite a lot once we were in the Park, saving multiple trips from my home and hers. First we went to Flat Creek Trail on Heintooga Ridge Road in the Balsam Mountain area. Danny needed this trail and I was repeating it as a good hiking partner. (She would do the same for me later.) The last time I was on this trail I wasn’t too happy because I was alone, so I enjoyed it much more this time around. It was quite chilly and I forgot my gloves in the car. I did not forget them the rest of the week. (BTW: Danny is only checking off trails as being completed while I am counting up miles, so yes, I am counting that 2.6 miles twice because…I want to! Remember, a hiker is honest.)

At this high elevation the leaf change had begun. This photo was taken at the Heintooga Ridge Overlook near the picnic area. (If you want to go see it, hurry, because the road closes October 31.) Back in July my friend Carol and I watched a lovely sunset from this very spot.

Our next plan was Hike #4 in the Sugarlands/Greenbrier section of “Day Hiker’s Guide”. From Balsam Mountain we headed through the Park toward Gatlinburg, where we ran smack into the lunch break at the Convention Center and a gazillion folks who had no concept of a pedestrian crossing. Danny got free but my car was swamped by people who were looking backwards as they talked and walked. Now I know what a rock star feels like swarmed by fans! Finally I escaped and we headed around Cherokee Orchard Road, leaving one car at the Baskins Creek Trailhead and then driving to Greenbrier to begin at the Grapeyard Ridge trailhead. Grapeyard Ridge Trail is 7.6 miles long and passes numerous former sites of homes and farms. Dolly Parton’s grandfather, Walter Parton, once lived near Rhododendron Creek in this area. Because of the continued dry conditions, we easily rock hopped along creeks that normally would have gotten us wet. One of the most interesting sights was on Injun Creek, named not in reference to Native Americans but to the remains of a steam engine that crashed and overturned into the creek in the 1920’s. I always pictured these steam engines as great big things, but this was not.

Grapeyard Ridge Trail ended at the Cole cabin and Roaring Fork Motor Trail, where we wanted to pick up Baskins Creek Trail…which was not as easy to find as we thought it should be. The USGS map shows this trailhead a little bit down the road to the right, but after plenty of walking we did not find it and decided because of the lateness of the hour (nearly 4:30 pm) we should walk by the road back to our cars and I would do this trail another day. However, as we walked back by the Cole place, the Baskins Creek Trail appeared at the parking lot to the left. Danny had already hiked this 2.7-mile trail but I wanted to get it done, so I asked Danny if she would be okay with that if she kept walking on the road. She looked at me and said, “Well, are you okay with it, because you’re the one going in the woods.” I hesitated a moment. Now why did she have to say it that way?

This is me doing my Blair Witch Project imitation.

But off I went, and there are many out there who will shake their heads and think less of me for being miles-oriented, but I was motivated to go VERY QUICKLY. I knew there were numerous bear sightings along Roaring Fork Motor Trail and that I was walking into their living room. I did stop to visit the Bales Cemetery at the beginning of the trail, and I managed to take a couple of photos from one vantage point, but I did not venture down to Baskins Creek Falls and a second cemetery because I knew Danny would be waiting for me.

Or so I thought…I actually arrived at the car ahead of her. A car stopped at the intersection and I told them that if they saw a hiker along the road, please tell her that her buddy was waiting for her. Danny arrived a few minutes later, having had a delightful time talking with motorists who were looking for bears along the roadside.

Our hiking for the day was over and we were staying in Townsend, but driving along the way we placed a car at the Jakes Creek trailhead in Elkmont where we would be ending our hiking the next day. I told you we were efficient! We were a great team on a mission. Then we headed to Tremont Hills Campground and our “camping cabin” with electricity and a small fridge. We would be getting up in the dark the next couple of days, which is hard to do in a camp- ground. This place has a bath house with hot showers and the cabins even have heat and air conditioning. The cabins can sleep up to six people and it’s a good value if you have a group. It was late, so we ate, showered and snoozed after a day well spent in the beautiful Smokies.

(PS - Today I was trying out new trail runner shoes. They felt great and I thought I was a new convert from ankle-high hiking boots, but at the end of the day I had another bone bruise on my right foot. I just don't feel like I can head out in them tomorrow knowing we have 19 miles to do, so it's back to the good old running shoes...)