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...)

1 comment:

boyandgirlscoutsdotcom said...

What great pictures! I love the Heintooga Ridge Overlook picture and the strange gizmo carcass. Thanks!