1/31/09 – Huskey Gap Trail/Little River Trail/Rough Creek Trail/Sugarland Mountain Trail/Huskey Gap Trail – 14.8 Miles
Plans to hike this route with Chris at YourSmokies fell through when he decided to be all responsible and get work done, so I decided to go solo with a tentative plan for Chris to hike in later and meet me on the way out. The trailhead for Huskey Gap is only a couple of miles from Sugarlands VC and I got an earlier start than I had told Chris because who can sleep when the sun is shining?
The temps were in the high 20's and if I was raring to go. The primary point of interest on the first half of Huskey Gap is the proliferation of grapevines. There were no leaves in January, of course, but I imagine at other times of the year this trail has a very closed-in jungle feeling, similar to Meigs Mountain Trail. This photo shows an extremely thick grapevine draped across the trail; there were many of these.
I paused for a moment at the intersection of Huskey Gap and Sugarland Mountain Trails. About five minutes away from this point on Sugarland Mountain Trail is the spot where Carol and I scared a mama bear and her cubs (and vice versa) last August. Funny, I have never seen a bear when I’ve been hiking alone, but I have seen ten bears when I’ve hiked with other people. ..and ten more from the car…
The second half of Huskey Gap Trail descends gently towards Little River. Less than half a mile from the end was a brand new sign for backcountry Campsite 21 and a sign for water, which had me scratching my head because my map said that Campsite 21 was located along Sugarland Mountain Trail. (Later I read that this was one of the recent campsite relocations.) At the trail junction I turned left onto Little River Trail and followed the boisterous river up to its intersection with Rough Creek Trail. I was here back in October with Danny and Judy.
Usually I read up on the trails for each hike in both “Day Hiker’s Guide” and “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” at least twice before I do the hike, once a few days ahead and once the night before. To be honest, I don’t retain every detail but I try to be aware of creek crossings and big points of interest. Well…I must have skipped the Rough Creek description, maybe because I had hiked it before and didn’t think there was anything remarkable except that it is steep and I needed to take my time. So imagine my surprise when I came to the first crossing of Rough Creek.
The water was high but there were enough exposed rocks to step across on – and the rocks were all covered with ice. I spent a good ten minutes walking up and down the creek, trying and then abandoning routes because of the slippery rocks. I had a stern conver- sation with myself that I was here alone and that falling and breaking something would not be fun to blog about later. Thank goodness once again for hiking poles to provide balance. I made it across with only one heel slipping in and getting wet. There were two or three more crossings like this as I made my way up Rough Creek.
At the Sugarland Mountain intersection I breathed a sigh of relief – let the fun begin! The upper portion of Sugarland Mountain Trail from the AT to this point was great fun back in the fall, and I will tell you that today’s section was also a delight. I had a smile on my face all the way to the end of the day. What an awesome trail! Looking over the right shoulder, I had grand views of a frosty Balsam Point. The only hikers I met today were on this portion of the trail, and one of them pointed out the tower on Clingmans Dome (over my left shoulder). All my squinting was not helping me to see it, but after she pointed it out I put on my glasses (hey!) and there it was.
There are sections of huge boulders along Sugarland Mountain, rocks as large as houses and cars. This photo shows the trail going through a huge cut in a boulder. If you climb the boulder on the left you will be treated to an amazing view across the Little River valley. You can even climb up on top of the rock that’s on top of that rock!
Sugarland Mountain Trail became gentler and flatter as the woods opened up. I passed the original Campsite 21 (still didn’t know what the story was) and eventually I arrived back at the intersection with Huskey Gap Trail. I turned right to retrace the last two miles to the trailhead. About halfway there I heard a voice coming around the bend, and it was Chris on his cell phone, walking in to meet me. I was more than an hour ahead of schedule, so it was a short hike for him as he did an about-face to return with me to our cars. We chatted in the parking lot for a while (Chris has so much information and knowledge, it’s hard to stop) and finally we parted ways, me going back to my cozy hotel and Chris to squeeze in one more short hike for the day. I needed some serious beauty sleep because tomorrow I will tackle Mount Cammerer.