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!