Monday, January 26, 2009

A New Personal Record

Epic Hike With Don – 1/11/09 - Deep Creek Trail/Martin’s Gap Trail/Sunkota Ridge Trail/Thomas Divide Trail – 20 miles

Don and I set out before 6:30 a.m. to place cars for our ambitious hike today. Driving along Newfound Gap Road in the utter pitch dark, we spotlighted a coyote crossing the road. After placing my car at the Thomas Divide Trailhead, we parked Don’s car at the Deep Creek trailhead and got ready to walk into the abyss. It was no longer utter pitch dark, just dark, and as we stepped onto the trail at 7:15 a.m. we decided to skip the head lamps and see (ha ha) what happened. The sky was turning pink and our eyes adjusted and before you know it, we were skipping down the mountain. So much enthusiasm and excitement at the beginning of every hike! I had done the first 3.9-mile section of Deep Creek back in September, although that time I was hauling my butt UP this section. And I must confess, today’s hike was my worst case scenario – a long downhill and a long, slow climb back up. Having Don as a hiking buddy was my incentive, someone new to talk to and not embarrass myself in front of.

“Hiking Trails of the Smokies” tells me that “Deep Creek Trail was one of the first trails constructed after the Park took possession of the land and Engineer R.P. White considered this trail the loveliest of all those he designed.” I have to agree, as we found Deep Creek to be in fine form thundering down the mountain, and we had a grand hike.

At first the trail switchbacks down through coves of oak and yellow birch, and we were accompanied by foggy clouds so not much of a view. Once the trail began to parallel Deep Creek, the vegetation changed drastically and the trail was closed in with lush green everywhere, dog-hobble and rhodo- dendron, nearly obscuring the path and giving the impression of any season but the dead of winter. There were numerous blow-downs to negotiate. This one beside the creek has rhododendrons sprouting out of it. Deep Creek seemed filled to nearly overflowing and the trail was often just a couple of feet from the edge.
The “brown book” advised that we would be rock hopping several small feeder streams – well, today we performed miraculous stunts of daring, hanging onto tree branches and swinging across raging waters, hopping where there were no rocks to hop, shouting above the roar of the thunderous cascades. In this photo, Deep Creek is at the top of the frame, flowing to the left, and the usually small side stream is in the foreground, flowing to the left to meet it.

In the summertime we probably wouldn't have noticed this side creek at all. Here is Don taking a leap of faith over another side stream feeding into Deep Creek. At this point we were looking to step on rocks that were “only” a few inches submerged. It was exhilarating to get across all the water challenges!

After mile 6.5 on Deep Creek Trail there is a series of four backcountry campsites each spaced about a half-mile apart until the intersection with Martin’s Gap and Pole Road Creek Trail. At this intersection is Campsite #57, Bryson Place, the location of Horace Kephart’s last permanent camp. Don and I looked for the commemorative millstone placed here by the Kephart Boy Scout Troop in 1931 but we couldn’t find it. We will be back here in early March with some more hikers so I hope we find it then.

Here we turned away from Deep Creek and headed up Martin’s Gap Trail. Our fun downhill jaunt was over and the hard work began. The conversation ground to a halt as we climbed 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles and then turned left onto Sunkota Ridge Trail and – yep, more uphill, not quite as steep, but steady nonetheless for another 4.9 miles. By the time we reached Thomas Divide Trail, the clouds were thinning out and we began to see the adjacent ridges emerging. Don took a short break while I backtracked .4 miles on Thomas Divide Trail to tag up with Newton Bald Trail (.8 miles total). Remember, if you’re hiking the entire Smokies map, those little loose ends are important! Then we began our final segment along Thomas Divide Trail. Our legs that had been getting heavier with every step now regained some strength as the end was within reach.

As the clouds continued to dissipate, the spine of the Smokies appeared and we were able to distinguish Clingmans Dome (the rounded hump in the ridge line in the middle of the photo) and even the tower on top – quite a surprise. Two weeks ago today I was looking at the tower from the opposite side of the Park on Roundtop Trail. How awesome is that?? Some people express skepticism at my goal of hiking all the trails in one year, claiming that I am going too fast to truly appreciate the beauty, but I’m here to tell you, seeing Clingmans from opposite sides in a short period of time, the enormity of this grand place is not lost on me and I am loving every minute of it.

Oh, yeah, and we could see Mt. LeConte, too!

We reached the end of the trail at 4:00 p.m., energized by the last couple of miles and seeing the big peaks. For me this was a personal record – 20 miles! Do I look like I’m ready to drive 4 hours home??

All in all, this was one of my favorite hikes, the challenges of Deep Creek, the Kephart campsite, the varied and entertaining conversation with Don and the big finish of seeing Clingmans and LeConte, although I would pay for it the next day when I was not worth a plug nickel. I drove home once again thanking God for making this adventure possible at this stage of my life.

If you pick 'em up, O Lord, I'll put 'em down. ~Author Unknown, "Prayer of the Tired Walker"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dutchman's Pipe

Kanati Fork Trail Out-and-Back – 1/10/09 - 5.8 Miles

I had a spur-of-the-moment invitation to hike on Sunday, January 11, with Don from the Carolina Mountain Club. Knowing that we would have a very early start time, I needed to spend the night before close by, so I drove over to the Smokies on Saturday afternoon for a little warm-up hike before meeting Don for dinner. The trail I was aiming for was Kanati (pronounced “Kuh-NAH-tee) Fork Trail up to its intersection with Thomas Divide Trail (where I would be tomorrow with Don). It goes from 2,900 to 5,000 feet in 3 miles, a lot of huffing and puffing. But what a treat this trail turned out to be!

The air was cold and damp and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee was desolate. I stopped to chat with the rangers and see what their forecast was showing. Yep, rain and yuck and temps in the high 30’s. I estimated 3 hours to finish the trail and then a nice cozy hotel room awaited me. The parking lot for the trailhead was empty and a couple of cars drove by as I walked across the road, the occupants staring as though I were a rare sight. (What, a person walking, in the rain, on purpose?? Oh, my word, Agnes, she’s going into the woods!)

The biggest payoffs of Kanati Fork are within the first mile, and I’m here to tell you, everyone who visits the Smokies in winter should take the time to walk this trail. Kanati Fork itself was flowing fast after the recent rains and it looked like a ribbon of white coursing down the mountain. At first I thought I was seeing snow, but it was the white water of a multitude of small cascades. As you’ve heard me say many times now, the lack of foliage gives a magnificent long view into the coves and crevices and valleys between the mountains and you can see water that you can only hear at other times of the year.

After about one mile there is a very sudden sharp switchback and right in front of the hiker’s eyes is a magnificent example of Dutchman’s pipe vines. Wow! The main section in my photos is about 20 feet tall and disappears into the treetops. Wow! The ropelike vines are larger than my forearm. Wow! I stayed here enthralled by the vines for a long time, taking photos as best I could while staying on the trail. (Although I could see where others had climbed up the banks to get a closer look, it was very wet and slippery and I was, after all, by myself and did not want to get hurt and spend the night there.)

Finally I turned to continue on up the trail. It soon began to drizzle and I put on my rain jacket and my backpack cover. You know, once you have hiked in the rain and seen what a non-issue it is, a whole new hiking experience opens up. The sound of the soft rain (or a downpour), the smell of the dampness, splashing in the puddles (hey, you’re already wet, and those boots are supposed to be waterproof, right?), rock hopping where there is usually no water at all, it’s a delight to be in the woods when it rains. Don’t get me wrong - I like sunshine a lot too! – but don’t let the rain or the clouds keep you off the trails.

Farther up the trail were more Dutchman’s pipe vines, though not as impressive as the first one. There were also several fallen trees across the trail, most easy to get by, but a couple were challenges like this one. I crawled over it the first time and, unbeknownst to me, the pack cover got caught on it and pulled off. On the way back down the trail I retrieved the pack cover, and from that angle it looked like it was possible to crawl under the tree. The verdict: under is easier.

On the way back down I paid more attention to the side creeks feeding into Kanati Fork and the main creek itself, marveling at how far I could see that white ribbon, and I spotted this great tree formation which I totally missed on the way up. Then suddenly...I was back at the trailhead and my car was sitting by the road. Even with the picture-taking and the tree-wrangling I was finished in less than three hours. I stopped back by the Visitors Center to ask the rangers about the vines I saw, and from their reference books we determined that it was indeed Dutchman’s pipe rather than grapevines. (Grapevines have bark that looks shredded and Dutchman’s pipe bark is very smooth.) I showed them my photos and they took note so they could recommend it to more visitors. It was close to closing time, raining steadily outside, and I went on my way. My head and my heart were full from my wonderful walk in the woods that day.  

"Keep close to nature's heart, yourself; and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." ~John Muir

Friday, January 16, 2009

I've Lost My...Mind?

Townsend Base Camp – 1/5/09 - Day Four – Meigs Mountain Trail/Meigs Creek Trail – 8.1 Miles

Ready to get wet again? Today was a shorter hike so driving in the dark was unnecessary – how refreshing! But we were still early risers and packed and out of the cabin by 8:15 a.m. We left a car at The Sinks parking area on Little River Road and went on to the Jakes Creek trailhead at Elkmont. We were looking forward to some fun with Hike #5 in the Tremont/Elkmont section of “Day Hiker’s Guide,” and I recommend hiking this in the opposite direction that Ms. Etnier does – why go UP Meigs creek when you can go DOWN it? As we got our boots and gear together, I remarked at how light my daypack felt. I must be getting stronger!

Just a short walk up Jakes Creek brought us to our first creek crossing (and the only one for us on Jakes Creek) and the luxury of a footbridge. Since I am still relying on Judy’s photos, here is one of Judy on the footbridge to prove that she was indeed with us!

Soon afterwards we turned right onto Meigs Mountain Trail and passed an area of old home sites with stone walls and this springhouse foundation right beside the trail. As the “brown book” reminds us (“Hiking Trails of the Smokies”), “The settlers had just enough time to drag out rocks and establish their tilted corn and potato fields here before they had to sell their land to the park commission. The Smokies was the first U.S. national park in which private land was purchased for inclusion; it was also the first park where eminent domain was used to force land sales.” Meigs Mountain itself is named for Return Jonathan Meigs, a surveyor in the area in the early 1800’ s and a Revolutionary War hero. “Return” refers to his father’s persistence in courting his mother.

Meigs Mountain Trail could also be called Grapevine Jungle – we were amazed at how prolific the grapevines grew at many places along the trail. Even downed trees were covered in them and tiny fruits were scattered along the ground. I’ll have to do some asking around to learn more about this. Kinda creepy, though. Imagine what it looks like in summer when the leaves are all out.

We paused at the cemetery on Meigs Mountain Trail that I had visited two weeks ago with Megan and Laura. Today was not nearly as cold. During our walking I was having trouble getting water to flow from my Camelback, and at the cemetery I removed it from my pack and was able to diagnose the problem – no water! No wonder my pack felt so light! Now, I can most distinctly remember filling it the night before and setting it beside my pack and loading it into my pack. There was no water puddle on the cabin floor this morning because I swept it out myself. So what the heck is going on?? My friends each gave me some water and I was good to go, but still puzzled at the mystery.

Finally we turned right onto Meigs Creek and prepared to count our 18 creek crossings. Rock hopping is a lot of fun AFTER you have done it successfully. Even with the recent rains, we managed to stay dry for the entire trail. Crossing #9 was a little sketchy, but we did it! This trail was very different from Meigs Mountain, going immediately from a ridge walk to a more closed in feeling. There were very cool trees and a lovely unnamed waterfall and an eerie, foggy feeling in the air.

After our 18th crossing we expected to pop out at the trailhead, but there is actually a good uphill climb, kind of anticlimactic after all that water. And the trailhead sign for Meigs Creek Trail is not at the parking lot, but about a quarter mile down the trail. Could someone explain that to me, please? At long last we came to The Sinks, a series of big cascades roaring into a deep pool. The story goes that a logging train once derailed and plunged into the Little River at this spot, never to be recovered as the bottom could not be reached, hence the name "The Sinks.”

Well, over 50 miles of hiking for this trip and we were feeling quite terrific. What better way to celebrate than to stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and lock my keys in the car? Carolyn and I decided to change pants in the parking lot and I knew as I slammed the door that my keys were in my hiking pants that were no longer on my body. Gee whiz…But we watched the cool movie there at the VC and chatted with the rangers, who gave us candy, and within 45 minutes the nice key man broke into my car for me. Yes, this makes two times now, for those of you who are keeping score.

When I recounted all this to my husband he summed it up this way: lost camera, lost water, lost car keys…dementia is setting in earlier than expected…

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-three today and we don't know where the hell she is. ~Ellen DeGeneres

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Water Is Wide

Townsend Base Camp – 1/4/09 - Day Three – Chestnut Top Trail & Roundtop Trail & A Little Greenbriar Thrown In – 16.3 Miles

On the map our hike for today looks pretty simple – start at one end of Chestnut Top Trail, cross the road at the Townsed Wye, pick up the Roundtop Trail, cross Wear Cove Road, finish up the 1.9-stretch of Little Greenbrier Trail. Ah, no, grasshopper! Many of you know that the end of Roundtop Trail at the Wye parking lot lies across the Little River and there is no bridge. In fact, the sign at the far end of the 7.5-mile walk says just that. So our shuttling expertise was needed once again. The brilliant plan was to end the day’s hiking with the river crossing, change out of wet boots and go our separate ways.

(Confession: I had fretted and worried about this river crossing for days. I’d read that you needed a boat (!) to cross it in high water and that stringing a rope to hold onto was a good idea. Yikes! This is why I wanted to do this crossing with a group rather than solo or with just one other person. But I also didn’t want anyone to be ticked off if we got there and it was impassable.)

Joining Carolyn, Judy, Jeff, Dustin and me today is Lenny Bernstein, a man whose hiking resume is long and varied, includes section hiking the entire AT (motto: 25 years or bust!), the Great Walk across England, the SB6K, the 4,000-footers in the Adirondacks, hiking in Spain, Norway, New Zealand, and on and on. Just a couple of days before this adventure he had returned from a trip to Taiwan that included some hiking. (Lenny, correct me or add to the list here if you wish.) Lenny’s goal is to finish the Smokies 900 in the next couple of years. He is a little bit ahead of me and we are trying to combine efforts.

Lenny met us at 8:00 a.m. at our cozy cabin. Jeff and Dustin were packing to leave for home after the hike and Judy and I had already placed a car near the end of Chestnut Top Trail (about a half a mile away at the edge of a private road.) We took all our cars to the Townsend Wye parking lot and started up the long pull of the Chestnut Top Trail. Now, I’ve read that this is a most glorious trail in wildflower season, but I can’t say much about our hike today. We were walking in the clouds again with no views, hoping that it would clear up by lunchtime. Alas, no photos or great tales about this trail!

At the end of Chestnut Trail we turned left, scooted down Schoolhouse Gap Trail and out of the park for our half-mile gravel road walk to my car. Then the six of us drove over to the beginning of Roundtop Trail on Wear Cove Road. Up to this point poor Dustin, here on his first trip ever to the Smokies, was missing out on the impressive ridgeline views. Well, here they come! Along Roundtop Trail the clouds were dissipating and the temperature was rising. By the time we reached Joint Ridge at 2.4 miles most of us had gotten down to short sleeves and zipped-off pant legs – Judy’s thermometer said 61 degrees. Hey, it’s January in the Smokies! We were treated to those wonderful views of the spine of the AT in the distance. At our second snack stop we lingered to enjoy the Vitamin D and I even wondered where I’d put my sunscreen.

Near the end of Roundtop Trail there is a large rock outcropping overlooking the Wye parking lot and Little River. We caught up with each other here and took a last breath before meeting our fate. We thought we had a little bit more hiking to reach the bottom, but surprisingly, it was just around a very short steep descent. And there was……the river. 

Now, I'm not particularly good at estimating distances, but I'm guessing the river was about 15 yards wide in front of us and it had been raining for a few days. Judy took an appraising look at the water and plunged right in before we could even get the cameras out. Lenny followed her, and once I saw the route and how deep it was getting (mid-thigh) I was behind them. The water was pretty darn cold, but the warm sunshine made it seem almost reasonable. Carolyn and Jeff switched shoes and Dustin brought up the rear in fine style with bare feet, holding his shoes and carrying his hiking sticks in his backpack because maybe that’s where they would do the most good…There was some screaming and talk of numbness, but all in all it was great fun and we felt on top of the world for our great accomplishment. What a bonding experience! This will always be one of those, “Do you remember when…” moments for me. 

Back at the parking lot, Jeff, Dustin and Lenny changed and left for their long drives home, and the women went on for…what else… more hiking! (I wanted to bail out but Carolyn egged me on.) We had to retrieve my car at Wear Cove Road anyway, parked right by the section of the Little Greenbrier Gap Trail that Judy and I had not done, so we hiked the 3.8-mile out-and-back. I have to say, I was tired and this was strictly an exercise, so I owe this trail another look later on. At the end of the day we had hiked 16.3 miles (yes, I’m counting the half-mile road walk because…I can.) 

The three of us went for a meal in Townsend and then back to the cozy cabin. Once we had showers and were in our pajamas and ready for the next day’s hike, the conversation turned to good books and we began to make a list. All of us are avid readers and the titles flew as Judy captured them on her iPhone. I believe we founded a hiking book club! Stay tuned for what we read first. 

All in all, a glorious day in the Smokies, great hiking partners, blue skies at last, and a thrilling, chilling river crossing to top it off.  

“If you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good!” Dr. Seuss

Monday, January 12, 2009

Creeps and Creeks and Hay - Oh My!

Townsend Base Camp - 1/3/09 - Day Two – Ace Gap Trail/Beard Cane Trail/Cooper Road Trail/Wet Bottom Trail – 16.7 Miles

(Today’s photos are courtesy of Judy.)

Since we were a team that could not be divided, today’s hike (Number 2 in the Cades Cove/Abrams Creek section of "Day Hiker's Guide") required heroic car shuttling. Judy and I left the cozy cabin in the dark of early morning to put a car at the Cooper Road Trail trailhead, which is about halfway around the Cades Cove loop road. The road is closed at sunset, opened at sunrise, so we arrived at around 7:00 a.m. hoping it would be open by 7:15 a.m. Not so...

We were the fourth car in line and had plenty of time to comtemplate life as we waited for a ranger to appear. A couple of Park vehicles went through the gate and closed it again behind them. I debated the idea of asking the three cars in front to let us go first so we could place our car and get out of there, but we decided that would be rude. At 7:40 a.m. the kind ranger opened the gate and the first car started through. I could have made more progress walking backwards. By now there were at least 30 cars in line. We proceeded at the pace of two miles per hour (not kidding) as our leader looked for any signs of wildlife, including flying insects, I’m sure. He was not interested in pulling over at the numerous places provided. Finally, at one pull-off when he practically stopped (not ON the pull-off, just AT it) I careened around him, waved thanks for nothing, and along with sidekick Judy we whizzed down the road to find our trailhead. I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done.

Although our intention was to hike the one-mile Wet Bottom Trail at the end of the day, we left the car at the Cooper Road trailhead just in case we ran out of time. Then we headed back to pick up the rest of the crew, who by now were wondering why we were gone an hour longer than we had planned. From there we drove up the narrow and winding Old Cades Cove Road to the Ace Gap trailhead to begin the day.
The weather was gloomy but we were happy to be hiking. Any day outside is a good day, don’t you think? Although all the Smokies trails are similar, they are also unique. Ace Gap Trail’s unique feature seemed to be an abundance of white pine (and pitch pine?) trees with delicate green needles holding onto water droplets in the hazy morning light.

We stopped for a snack at Campsite 4 (now officially closed, by the way) and found a lone hiker preparing to do the same. In my usual naïve manner I started a conversation (where ya from? whatcha doing?) but he did not seem particularly chatty, just a guy out for a short quiet hike and a little lunch. I stepped off the trail for a bathroom break while the others talked with him a little more. Then when we resumed our trek they explained to me that the guy had a rather large knife (machete? ax?) and a vague explanation for it and was generally giving off a very creepy vibe. One more reason not to hike alone, I guess. I usually don’t worry about psychos in the woods, but this guy gave us all something to think about.

There was much discussion about what to do if one of us had encountered him alone. At the intersection to turn left onto Beard Cane Trail, we could see a faint but definite trail continuing on straight. Any of you veteran hikers have an old map with this trail on it? It appears that it would continue on down to hook up with Cane Creek Trail maybe?

But we were headed for Beard Cane Trail, looking forward to a dozen creek crossings, and we were not disappointed – an extremely fun time. For the record, the women rock hopped them all and the men chose to wade through one. These are photos of Carolyn and me walking on water.
Eventually the guys began to cry for a lunch break and we stopped by a downed tree covered with interesting fungi.

Soon after we resumed our hike it began to drizzle and by the time we turned left onto Cooper Road Trail it was raining lightly but steadily. Cooper Road Trail’s history is as a well- established road into Cades Cove, first an Indian trail, then improved for wagon transport, and still usable by Park vehicles. “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” (aka the “brown book”) describes mail service to the residents of Cades Cove beginning in 1832 via Cooper Road. But as fascinating as all this was, with the rain I regressed to my inner four-year-old in need of a nap and was a whiner to the end of this trail. I think it was just a little too warm to be wearing a rain jacket, but yet I didn’t want to get wet so I kept the jacket on. I refused to accept the situation and just stamped my feet a lot in the puddles. And like with a four-year-old, it changed absolutely nothing.

There was one moment of hilarity along Cooper Road Trail. The trail is wide enough to walk side by side and afforded a chance to chat in different combinations or (as in my case) sulk along alone. At one point near the end, Dustin (our 24-year-old jackrabbit) was a little ahead of us and suddenly came upon a woman sitting by the side of the trail. She hopped up and appeared to begin slowly following him. As each of us passed her and said hello, she responded but kept her head down so we could not see her face. Around the next bend were three other women standing, apparently waiting for their friend. That is when we realized that she had been caught “with her pants down” as Dustin came around the corner and was too embarrassed to face us. We had a laugh, realizing that it could happen to any of us.

At long last we reached the end of Cooper Road Trail and decided we had time to hike Wet Bottom Trail. Dustin volunteered to move the car for us so that he could also take some photos. Wouldn’t you know it? As we backtracked the short walk to the Wet Bottoms trailhead, the gal we had “caught” on the trail was sitting at the junction – this time just resting as her fellow hikers were going to tag the trailhead. We chatted as though we did not know what had been going on earlier and she was very nice. If she browses the internet looking for Smokies hiking stories, well, she’s famous now.

Anyway, Wet Bottom Trail was not very wet, and along it is the Elijah Oliver homestead, a farmhouse and out- buildings, very well preserved and a short walk from the Abrams Creek trailhead where we were meeting Dustin. Near this trailhead a bridge crosses Abrams Creek – a few days after we were here the Cove experienced so much rain that the creek overflowed its banks here by 50 feet or so.

We had a short stop at the Cades Cove visitor center (no one had turned in my camera) and then we joined the parade leaving the Cove. For some inexplicable reason, there was a truck pulling a long flatbed trailer piled high with those huge rolled bales of hay that you see sitting in a picturesque field on a lovely Sunday afternoon drive. Was it delivering hay for the stables? Nope, went right by them. Was the hay grown in the Cove and being delivered elsewhere? One of life’s mysteries. But it was exciting to follow it along the hills and dips of the one-lane road, holding our breath as any minute now we expected it to all tumble off and block our way for hours.

The day was not done for Judy and me, as we still had to retrieve our second car from atop the mountain at the Ace Gap trailhead. We began the day in the dark and ended it in the dark, so we rewarded ourselves with a Subway sandwich. Back at our little camping cabin, Dustin had fired up his laptop and everyone was uploading the day’s photos to look at. Ain’t technology grand? We had a lot of laughs and a good night’s sleep, dreaming of tomorrow’s hike that potentially would end with a waist-high river crossing!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Unsolved Mysteries

Townsend Base Camp – Day One – 1/2/09 – Crooked Arm Ridge Trail/Indian Grave Gap Trail/Rich Mountain Loop Trail – 8.1 Miles

First, the cast of characters for my first hiking trip of 2009:  

Carolyn – Energizer bunny hiker who has hiked with me for several Smokies weekends

Judy – hiking partner who has logged the most miles with me thus far

Jeff – returning for more after our Deep Creek trip back in September  

Dustin – first time on a Berg trip, first time in the Smokies, first time hiking with me, and less than half my age – can he handle it?

The accommodations for this trip were a camping cabin at Tremont Cabins in Townsend, no frills, hot showers, electricity and heat in the cabin and a dry place to leave our stuff. The crew came in from all different points in NC and SC. The traffic merging onto I-40 west of Asheville was downright ridiculous and for Jeff, Dustin and Carolyn…well, let’s say you can’t prepare for the spectacle of Gatlinburg. You just have to accept it. The five of us ultimately met at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and continued to the entrance parking lot in Cades Cove for an 8-mile warmup hike. The traveling took 1-1/2 hours longer than we expected, so it’s the beginning of the weekend and I’m already stressing about daylight.

Although there was dampness and low-lying clouds, the rain held off for our hike. I was elated to be back on the trail – everyone was excited just to be out of the cars! We quickly climbed up Crooked Arm Ridge Trail, 1,500 feet in about 2 miles, and turned onto Indian Grave Gap Trail. There were no views today, just walking in the clouds, and it was unseasonably warm (and would get warmer throughout the weekend.) As we turned left onto Rich Mountain Loop Trail to begin our descent back down to Cades Cove Road, we met a fellow hiking up, and he asked us how far it was to the next intersection and how far around to complete the loop. It was nearing 4:00 p.m. and he had ¾ of the loop to go – and he was wearing jeans and had no map. Here I go again, making judgments about hikers, but…I gave him my copy of the dollar map and suggested that he might want to simply continue to the intersection and turn around and call it a good day. (We saw him later walking along Cades Cove Road and he said that is what he chose to do, thank goodness.)

Along Rich Mountain Loop Trail we came to the John Oliver Cabin , where there were quite a few people checking out the cabin (you can also walk to it from a parking lot along the road.) We chatted with a couple from Florida who had been backcountry camping throughout the park – sounded like they were really getting around. They had been at backcountry sites in Cataloochee, Cosby and Elkmont. Judy mentioned my hiking project and I took off my backpack to retrieve and give them one of my cool little business cards that my daughter made for me.

I believe that’s the point where I lost my camera.

I last saw it when I took photos of the John Oliver cabin. I have a new camera case with a strap that onto my backpack belt threads through, and possibly it slipped off the belt when I set the backpack down. (In the photo here is possibly the exact moment that I lost it!) We walked the last mile from the cabin on Rich Mountain Loop Trail, and as we approached the last trail sign, I reached for my camera and it was just…gone. It could not have fallen off along the trail, and even if it did, I was in front and the four other hikers would surely have noticed it. We quickly drove to the cabin and I searched the area (all the people were gone now) and there was no camera to be found. Over the next couple of days I inquired multiple times at the Cades Cove Visitor Center and ranger station, but it’s a goner. Fortunately for me, I had uploaded all photos to my home computer before the trip and my fellow hikers are all better photographers than me (the guys have cameras too big to lose), so I still have access to fantastic pictures (the ones used here are credited to Jeff). But now I must shop for another camera – that will be Number 3 for this adventure.

The missing camera caper took a little time and we had to drive part way around the loop road, giving Carolyn, Jeff and Dustin their first experience of how perfectly normal people react when they see a deer or a turkey on a one-lane road. By the time we got to our cabin in Townsend it was pitch dark and we were starving, so we quickly unloaded and went in search of food, which we found at the Riverstone Restaurant, practically in walking distance. On this Friday night we had some terrific pork BBQ and live music. Later on we got showers and then prepared for tomorrow’s long hike. (Originally I had planned a key swap hike for Saturday, but we enjoyed each other’s company so much that we decided not to split up, so Judy and I would be moving cars into place extra early in the morning.) I don’t know about everybody else, but I was exhausted. Lights out by 10:30!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Another year over, a new one just begun...2008 was a great and a terribly sad time for me. The hiking project has far exceeded my expectations - I am physically capable of doing even the hardest hikes, I have met fantastic people and made some great new friends, my husband and kids have been very supportive, and I am still eager each day to get on the trail. I also lost my dad in July and, coupled with the loss of my mom in January 2007, some days are difficult to get through. But God is great and I am blessed, and I look forward to 2009 and new experiences and hope that my parents are looking down on me on the trails.