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!

No comments: