Whittier Weekend – Day Three – 1/25/09 – Goldmine Loop Trail/Lakeshore Trail/Forney Creek Trail/Whiteoak Branch Trail/Lakeshore Trail/Tunnel Bypass Trail and Noland Creek Trail Out-and-Back – 13.2 Miles
Carol, Stephanie and I packed up and waved goodbye to our getaway cabin and drove one last time towards Bryson City, this time going out Lakeview Drive to the Tunnel. As some of you know from the last time I was here in September, I don’t like the tunnel because it’s just plain creepy. Today that would not be a problem because I planned to avoid the tunnel all together. The hike route was fun to plan, shaped like a pair of eyeglasses – go ahead, get out your map and see if you don’t agree with me.
As we got our boots and packs together, a group of men arrived with a horse trailer and began unloading their horses. I chatted with them, got them to take a photo of us, and asked if their horses would go through the tunnel. They said sure. Well, good for them! Now in addition to Stephen King-type monsters I would also be avoiding horse poop in the dark.
We stepped onto the Goldmine Loop, a narrow 2-mile trail that descends to Tunnel Branch and then Goldmine Branch and then back up towards Lakeshore Trail. The best I can tell, the name has no significance other than per “Hiking Trails of the Smokies,” “probably expresses the hope of an early settler rather than the presence of a mine.” We saw this hog trap near the bottom alongside Tunnel Branch. I’ve seen several of these traps in my hiking year and on most trails there is evidence of the hogs rooting around and tearing up the ground. They were originally brought to the area to provide game for a hunting group and they have so far proved quite difficult to eradicate (that means it’s hard to kill ‘em all.)
Further on we arrived at the point where Goldmine Branch reaches this small finger of Fontana Lake, behind Carol and me in the photo. Doesn’t look too inviting, does it? Evidence of the drought conditions still plaguing the mountains. We did not take the opportunity to check out Campsite 67, but I’ve read that it has a chimney similar to this one that we passed. There were a dozen or so families that lived along Goldmine Branch at one time.
At the end of the trail we turned left onto Lakeshore Trail and followed it in search of Forney Creek or Bear Creek Trail. My little $1 Park map is a little ambiguous on this junction, so I always carry my National Geographic map too (note: while the Park map is not as detailed in its drawing, it does always have the campsites marked on the correct side of the trail, while the NatGeo has been wrong a couple of times, so always carry both!) We found the junction (it’s Forney Creek, and Bear Creek is .4 miles further up Forney Creek) at Campsite 74 and decided to have a lunch break at the picnic table. Campsite 74 is quite large and Forney Creek roars alongside it on its way to Fontana Lake.
Past Bear Creek going off to the left, we continued up Forney Creek Trail. The creek was fabulous today, lots of cascades and looking quite cold. Every little waterfall caught my eye. On the right side of the trail, icicles dripped and refroze, dripped and refroze.
Carol and I got a little bit ahead of Stephanie and when we arrived at the intersection with Whiteoak Branch Trail we discovered that Whiteoak Branch WAS the trail. We found a way across without getting wet and waited with cameras ready to see what Stephanie’s solution would be. She made it with a smile, of course!
We headed down Whiteoak Branch back towards Lakeshore Trail (the nose part of the eyeglasses) and here we parted ways. My plan was to take the Tunnel Bypass Trail while Steph and Carol stayed on Lakeshore all the way back through the tunnel. (The Tunnel Bypass Trail was designed by some smart person who knew that if the tunnel was the only way to get to all these trails, these trails would just not be gotten to.) The trail is just barely a goat path, very narrow, and I have a hard time believing horses can use it as it is on a steep slope most of the time. There were some great views of the ridge line in the distance, but I was hustling to the end so that I could meet my friends as they came out of the tunnels, so (again) I owe this trail more attention another time. I made it to the car, dropped my poles and pack, and was beginning to walk up to the tunnel entrance when one of the Park’s fine rangers drove up and began to walk along with me. He was interested in some “young folks” who were at the far end of the tunnel. As we got to the entrance, Stephanie and Carol walked out and had a good laugh that I had brought the law with me.
My day was not yet over, as there was the matter of the last mile of Noland Creek Trail to be explored as it passes under Lakeview Drive and continues on to Fontana Lake (I had hiked the rest of Noland Creek back in October). Carol chose to go with me while Stephanie opted to keep the car company. The walk to the end of Noland Creek is notable only for its four wooden car bridges crossing the creek. I confess, I didn’t find the campsite at all appealing, even though this “whirlpool” nearby looks like it would be great in the hot summertime. Carol and I walked back to the car and we got our stuff together to drive back to Charlotte.
My son had made several CD’s for me of about 75 of my favorite songs in my life and I play them on long drives (back and forth to the mountains) to keep me awake and happy. The mix is personal to me, most of the songs have a special meaning or remind me of a special time and they are in totally random order so I am constantly surprised at what comes next. It is awesome how music can change a mood every three minutes and it’s crazy to hear the theme song from M*A*S*H (“Suicide is Painless”) and then Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and then Blues Traveler’s “Runaround” and then Meatloaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Lights.” I know, I know…Anyway, we played my CD’s and screamed along the whole way home. What a fun time! Join in now: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight…”