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…