Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lost On The Trail

2/13/09 – Abrams Falls Trail/a smidge of Hatcher Mountain Trail/Hannah Mountain Trail/Rabbit Creek Trail – 11.6 Miles

On Thursday night I was a grateful guest at Lenny and Danny Bernstein’s home and early Friday morning we made the long pilgrimage to the Abrams Falls trailhead in Cades Cove. Danny has recently suffered a back injury but is working her way back to the hiking life. This weekend she was offering her services as trailhead finder and part-time hiker as Lenny and I covered new miles. The big excitement as we drove along the Cades Cove Loop was two pileated woodpeckers pecking on trees so close to the side of the road that we could have shaken hands with them. Yes, for this wildlife even WE stopped!

As we walked to the Abrams Falls trailhead from the parking area, we passed the sign for the Wet Bottom Trail and Lenny commented on having completed that trail. Well, me too, I thought, but then I paused…hmmm…I don’t remember coming out on that side of the bridge… Anyway, let’s go to the falls! The day was looking nice and it was a Friday, so not too many hikers out yet. In fact, we had the falls to ourselves for nearly ten minutes, time for some nice photographs without people climbing on the rocks. The morning sun and the spray were beautiful. The hikers that arrived behind us asked Danny where the trail kept going to, and she kindly tried to explain to them that it was a lengthy loop with unbridged stream crossings, which deterred them. I thought to myself, if you ask where the trail goes then you have no business going there. Am I being a snob? Just seems to me that a prepared hiker would have a map (they didn’t) and already know where the trail goes.

We left the falls and continued along the trail for perhaps three minutes before passing the spot of choice for the women’s “facilities.” Sorry if you are offended by the photo of toilet paper everywhere – I know I was offended seeing it for real. I have two things to say to all the women who walk in the woods – “ziplock bag” or “panty liners.” That’s all I’m sayin’…

Abrams Falls Trail rises high above the creek and follows it for a couple more miles past the falls. At the junction, Lenny and I walked the .2 miles up Hatcher Mountain Trail to tag up with Little Bottoms Trail (we planned to come at it from the other side the next day). Then we walked back down to meet Danny as she eyed the unbridged crossing of Abrams Creek. Here she would leave us to our fate.

Now, I’ve done a few crossings by now and I felt prepared. I had carried my water shoes because I didn’t want to stay in wet boots the rest of the day. Lenny is from the suck-it-up-and-get-wet school and he began crossing while I was changing shoes. I was a bit concerned when Lenny took a sudden turn and began walking downstream. He shouted that the rocks were very slippery and he was trying to get away from that spot. I could see a shallow section halfway across the stream so I aimed for it and plunged in.

Immediately I found myself in the same predicament as Lenny – a long moss-covered ledge that sloped downward so that ankle deep suddenly became knee deep. I looked over at Lenny and he did not seem to have solved the problem yet, so I began taking giant steps straight across, using my poles for dear life. I noticed that I could no longer feel my feet; the water was a tad on the frozen side. This crossing took me more than five minutes of careful (prayerful!) stepping. When I reached the other side, I sat down on a rock to dry my feet and saw that Lenny was still fighting the good fight, and a couple of minutes later he joined me on dry land. He said later he didn’t feel the cold because he had his boots on. I can say that this was the scariest stream crossing I have had in all my Smokies hiking.

Here’s Lenny pouring the water out of his boots.

From here we walked part way up the section of Hannah Mountain and stopped for lunch, then quickly reached the intersection and left turn onto Rabbit Creek Trail. We passed what we thought was Campsite 15 (didn’t see any bear poles) and I put on my Crocs again, this time to wade Rabbit Creek, not nearly as bad as the Abrams Creek crossing. Then we began the long steady uphill. During a break we looked at the NatGeo map and saw that we were climbing up Coon Butt Ridge, good for a smile at least, which gave onto Boring Ridge. It did feel boring, but the “brown book” says that “the ridge is not named for mundaneness, but rather for the Boring family that farmed the area.” At any rate, we were happy to see our last unbridged crossing of the day, Mill Creek, at the trailhead and parking area.

All during this hike I ruminated on that Wet Bottom Trail, which I thought I had hiked in January. At least we started the trail from the other end at Cooper Road Trail, but then we took the detour to check out the Oliver Cabin. From there we followed what we thought was Wet Bottom Trail to the Abrams Falls parking area. Now I suspected that we had merely walked a path to the parking lot and not the true trail. Well, there was only one thing to do...try it again.

Lenny headed to the car and I started on the Wet Bottom Trail. One mile in, one mile out, who needs to read a trail description? How hard can it be?

Pretty hard – in fact, I didn’t make it. After a few hundred yards I decided that I was on an animal trail following the creek and was about to turn around when I saw this doe placidly nosing around in front of me. (Hey, that tree looks like it was felled by a beaver.) She stayed put and posed for about a dozen photos as I walked in a semi-circle around her. When I left she was still there. I retraced my steps back a bit, turned left and started again. Soon I had to admit I was still not on a true trail as I approached the water again. This time I came within 15 feet of a great blue heron and watched it spread its wings and fly low and slow along the creek until it was out of sight – not enough time for photos, just enjoying this majestic creature. Another backtrack, and this time I saw the Cades Cove loop road and decided to abandon the trail and walk back by the road to my car. Wet Bottom is one of the shortest trails in the GSMNP and I have now hiked the first quarter-mile of each end, but the middle section eludes me. But even though I did not complete this trail, seeing the deer and the great blue heron made it a memorable and unique walk in the woods for which I am grateful.  

Now shall I walk or shall I ride?" Ride," Pleasure said. "Walk," Joy replied. ~W.H. Davies


smoky scout said...

Yes, I sound like a hiking snob even to myself. Let me clarify - I want everybody to hike ALL the trails, but I want everybody to do it safely with the right equipment, information and preparation.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I wish they'd do the prep work too, and carry a map. I've run into a lot of people on various trails who ask for advice. I usually pull out my map and try to help, but unless they're going someplace I've already been, I don't feel competent to give them directions. I'm just happy I haven't been lost myself - YET! And I despise trash in all its forms, but bathroom trash is the WORST!