2/14/09 – Gold Mine Trail/Cane Creek Trail/Cooper Road Trail/Hatcher Mountain Trail/Little Bottoms Trail/Cooper Road Trail/Gold Mine Trail – 16.6 Miles
Today’s hike plan was a variation of Hike #3 in the Cades Cove/Abrams Creek section of the “Day Hiker’s Guide” starting from Abrams Creek Campground. I had never been to this part of the Park on the extreme western end in Tennessee, so Danny was the guide. Unfortunately, the signs for Abrams Creek Campground were down so we had trouble finding it (thick fog didn’t help much either), and in the interest of time we opted to start from the Gold Mine Trail trailhead in the Top of the World Estates community.
This Gold Mine Trail, unlike its counterpart on the NC side, was actually named because of a gold mine (albeit not very productive). Danny started out hiking with us today, still building up her strength. Yesterday she hiked for 5 hours and her goal was to hike 5 hours again today (which she did). In the first few minutes on the Gold Mine Trail we came to our first of several blowdowns for the day. Blowdowns, like creek crossings, are always challenging as we look for more than one way to get across the obstacle.
We turned left for a short walk on Cooper Creek Trail, which snakes its way from Abrams Creek Campground to Cades Cove, intersecting with many trails in this area. In total I walked this trail in four sections before completing it. We turned left again onto Cane Creek Trail, a rather flat walk of 2.1 miles to a big “private property” sign where we had a snack and then turned around and walked back. The main point of interest on Cane Creek is the Buchanan cemetery, where we saw old and new grave markers. This old one for two children reads, “Our darlings together in heaven”. The second one is also for a young child, intriguing in that there is no exact date of death. There is no way to tell just how recent this marker is, but it is touching that the descendants of the family felt it important to honor her.
Back at the intersection with Cane Creek and Cooper Road, Danny turned right while Lenny and I turned left on Cooper Road (again). Along the next 1.8 miles of Cooper Road I marveled at the colors in the sandstone rock, colors that remind me of the Southwest, oranges, pinks, slate grays, broken off in sharp chips everywhere, absolutely beautiful. The diversity of the Smokies is amazing. The rocks are different almost from each mountain to the next. When Lenny and I turned right onto Hatcher Mountain Trail, we began to see chunks of quartz. Along this trail there was also much evidence of fire and Lenny remembered a controlled burn before his first hike in this area several years ago. For the most part the forest was recovering nicely, but there were occasional charred remains along the way. We were so deep in conversation that we covered the 2.8 miles of Hatcher Mountain Trail in slightly more than one hour! It’s an easy trail, especially in the direction we were hiking.
We came to the junction with Hatcher Mountain and Little Bottoms Trail, where we had tagged up yesterday just before our famous fording of Abrams Creek. Little Bottoms Trail turned out to be my favorite part of today’s hike. “Hiking Trails of the Smokies,”, aka the “brown book,” describes it as, “although frequently used, this trail is recommended only for those who are sure of foot. It generally follows an old man-way shaped more by 150 years of walking feet than by shovel and mattock…It retains characteristics of mountain footpaths of the old days before the uniform graded trails were built.” Well, sign me up! At this end the trail is a goat path, narrow and ungraded, and with its share of blowdowns. (Here is Lenny doing the sideways limbo.)
From Little Bottoms Trail we began to see the clouds lifting and were reminded that the misty mountains were still all around us.
Here is another great rock. Can anyone tell me what this is made up of?
Eventually Little Bottoms Trail parallels Abrams Creek and there is a series of quick ups and downs. Running beside the creek the trail is sandy and beachy. Then there is a big climb up and away from the creek where Lenny stopped to rest. I went ahead, up the climb and back down it to the intersection with Cooper Road Trail (again). From here I turned left and hoofed it down to the trailhead at Abrams Creek Campground and then back again. Lenny had already done this section, so he had a nice extended rest while he waited for me. Then we walked the last 1.7 uninspiring miles along Cooper Road Trail (again) back to Gold Mine Trail. By the time we saw Danny and our cars, I think Lenny and I were ready to call it a day. We had covered a lot of miles.
At this point Robert Frost was once again invoked, as I had miles to go before I slept. Danny and Lenny were heading back to Townsend, where we had stayed the night before, but I had a hike planned for the next day at Twentymile and would be spending the night with my hiking buddies Don and Judy at a cabin at Fontana Village. This was the first time I drove the Foothills Parkway and the Dragon in daylight, very exciting and scenic! I arrived at the cabin shortly after my friends, where we hurriedly got cleaned up and then bellied up to the bar at the resort to wait for our table for dinner. In this remote part of the world, like everywhere else, Valentine’s Day was being celebrated.
I won’t go into the details, but I will say that our food was excellent and our service was the poorest I have ever experienced in a nice restaurant. They were overbooked, understaffed and unapologetic. I am disappointed that I can’t recommend them, since there are so few alternatives in that section of the state. Oh well…and I forgot my own pillow so I did not sleep well. Gee, can’t wait for tomorrow’s hike!