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…