Monday, December 8, 2008

Eagle Creek Hike - Part 1

Fontana Trip – 11/20/08 – Day Two – Lead Cove Trail/Bote Mountain Trail/ Eagle Creek Trail/Lakeshore Trail – 13.9 Miles

It’s always a good idea to go to sleep with everything ready for the next morning in case of a late start. While our hike distance would not be overly long today, we wanted to have plenty of daylight. Creek crossings take time and we didn’t know what we would encounter.

And…the alarm did not go off this morning as planned. I bragged about always waking up without an alarm, but I failed in my duty too. We woke at 7:30 a.m., dressed, rushed to the car and were stepping onto Lead Cove Trail by 8:20 a.m. The air was quite chilly and remnants of recent snow appeared within the first half-mile. By the time we began climbing Bote Mountain Trail we were following in the icy footsteps of hikers from the past few days. Neither Judy nor I had anything to add traction to our boots, so it was steep, slippery, snowy, slow going to the top of the mountain.

We crossed the Appalachian Trail and walked down to the Spence Field Shelter. The ground was covered with a couple of inches of snow and the sky was that glorious blue-purple that we had been seeing for the last few hikes. We had lunch here and I took a series of photos of the shelter and the views. I think I’ll do a separate posting about Spence Field Shelter later on.

Here is a fun photo of Smoky Scout and Heartfire’s shadows in the snow.

Finally it was time to start down Eagle Creek Trail. We followed footsteps in the snow around to the back of the shelter and to the water source spring. The Eagle Creek Trail begins here…and the footsteps ended here. Nobody had been down Eagle Creek lately, that’s for sure! (Remember, there are no blazes on any trails in the Park other than the white blaze on the AT, so after the beginning trail sign the worn path is all that the hiker has to go on.) We started down what looked like a pathway, and we guessed right because I’m at home now writing about this...

Eagle Creek Trail is about 8.7 miles long and begins quite steeply behind the shelter, eventually leveling out to a road walk. About a mile into it we crossed a couple of wet switchbacks at little creeks. I could hear but not yet see a creek trickling and a sudden splash made me look quickly to my right. A gigantic (and I do mean GIGANTIC) wild pig appeared and began to run up the mountain on the opposite side of the creek, easily visible in the snow. He paused, gazed back at us over his shoulder, but before Judy could get the camera out he scampered on up the mountain and out of sight. He was solid black with skinny little legs, perky ears, a large snout and an enormously round body. My first wild pig sighting! If I had only had a glimpse I would have counted him as a bear, he was that huge. So much for the cute little piglet image…Not long after we saw our porky friend we began to hear coyotes howling, a bit chilling as we felt so isolated in this remote part of the Park. We just kept on walking…

The woods were very quiet and very pretty – a Robert Frost kind of day. This is what I love about hiking after the leaves have fallen. The field of vision is larger, animals are easier to spot, and the ridge lines of surrounding mountains are always visible. I love the bare trunks and limbs, the varying colors of bark. The twisted or ramrod straight shapes look like sculpture. I don’t miss the green shades and I don’t long for the fall colors anymore. It’s time to see the forest instead of the leaves.

And leaves on the ground, we discovered, are not necessarily your friend. Once the colors have all faded to brown and they have been matted down by rain and snow and trampling feet, leaves can be treacherous. They disguise rocks, they look like solid ground when they are floating on water, and on a steep slope they can be as slippery as ice. We both took falls as we made our way on Eagle Creek Trail.

Down, down, down we went, and since there were no trail intersections we began to wonder what our mileage was. Where would the creek crossings start?

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