Tuesday, October 28, 2008

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.

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