Thursday, October 9, 2008

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!

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