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