2/8/09 – Bradley Fork Trail/Hughes Ridge Trail/Chasteen Creek Trail/Bradley Fork Trail – 15.7 Miles
Early Sunday morning we woke up and discussed how we didn’t feel like doing this hike. I was tired and Jim was sick and tired. He decided to wear his sneakers for this hike, even though it was probable that we would see snow again. We drove over to the Smokemont Campground with the mindset that we would start out and see what happened; however, the hike plan was a loop with no bailout points. Another discouraging factor was a cloudy and gray sky. What happened to the sunshine forecast? I asked Jim about two dozen times if he wanted to turn around, because I didn’t want to see him get sicker from being out in the cold and damp. He kept saying, “We’re already here, let’s keep going.” Finally I stopped asking – he’s a grown man and can decide for himself and I should stop being his mother. So we trudged ahead.
We saw an excellent example of a busy beaver’s work along Bradley Fork Trail. The first few miles of this trail is an old road bed with several large bridges crossing the creek. As with all the big creeks in the Park this time of year, the water was gurgling and gushing and beautiful. Here’s a closeup of a pretty cascade.
There are also many examples of CCC stonework in places where they built the road over the creek. Some have become overgrown with soft green moss.
After 4 miles of rather pleasant walking we reached the funky intersection with Cabin Flats and we both stripped off the long underwear (fortunately not traumatizing any other hikers). Bradley Fork Trail took a sharp right turn and we walked into another level of hiking. Like the previous day on Bear Creek, we had 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 3.3 miles. The farther we went, the steeper it got. My gosh, why in the world do I DO this? At one point a giant tree had fallen level across the trail at about butt height, so we took a rest. This is what the trail looked like for the last mile.
Aaaahhhh…the junction with Hughes Ridge Trail at last! I was plenty warm from the uphill effort , but the wind was whistling over the ridge. We put on some layers and sat down to eat, and Jim commented on the formula for hypothermia: cold sweat, stiff breeze and mid-40’s temperatures. After five minutes we were packing up and moving on and soon we came to a bit of snow, although not as much as on Bear Creek. The traces of snow continued until we were well on our way down Chasteen Creek.
The trail sign at the intersection with Enloe Creek Trail indicated 7.4 miles to Smokemont – what? We thought we were closer than that. Then five minutes later at the intersection with Chasteen Creek Trail the trail sign indicated 5.3 miles to Smokemont. Hmmmm….Well, the first sign has never been updated since the original Hughes Ridge route that connected to Smokemont has been closed. We were just happy to suddenly have two miles chopped off of our hike. Also at the Chasteen Creek junction is this very cool wood sculpture that is perfect for photo ops. Jim is pretending that he is riding his bike.
Turning left on Chasteen Creek Trail, we started a steep descent that was surprisingly pleasant. The forest was wide open and the clouds were beginning to separate with a little blue peaking through. The psychological boost of a blue sky is amazing! We paused for a break at Campsite 48, a great spot between two creeks, but for the life of me I could not see a level spot to pitch a tent. Further down the trail widened and became less steep. About a mile from the junction with Bradley Fork trail is a side trail down to the creek with a place to tie up horses by a wonderful cascade. We also passed this blowdown across the trail that appears to have been shredded by some animal (bears?)
As we made our last turn back onto Bradley Fork Trail towards the parking area, Jim and I agreed that we were not as whipped as we thought we would be – in fact, we felt better than when we had started that morning and definitely better than when we finished the day before. I can’t explain it but I’m grateful. We even felt good enough to stop for barbecue on the way back home to Charlotte.