Lenny and I got an early start on our long day – 7:40 a.m. I was very excited about this hike because most of the miles were new to me and it completed the routes in the Deep Creek area. I tried not to think about the nearly 2,250-foot elevation gain coming in the first 3.5 miles. But there it was right at the beginning – the climb up Noland Divide Trail. The only sign of spring on this section of the trail was a single purple violet near the trailhead. After that, it was still winter, deep fallen leaves and no foliage peaking out.
But I grew to love this trail and it may well rank in the top five in the park. Still winter, so the southern views of Deep Creek Valley and even Bryson City were revealed at switchback after switchback. Acutely feeling my amateur status as a photographer, I kept snapping pictures in hopes that something would convey the scene.
As we climbed, the view opened up more and more. The fellow who put a red roof on his house (click on photo to full size and you’ll see it) wanted to make sure his house would be seen and he succeeded. When we reached the Lonesome Pine Overlook sign, Lenny continued on the trail but I could not resist taking the spur to the top. From there the vista is unobstructed, not quite 360 degrees – maybe 300? – and simply too big to photograph. I just stood and enjoyed. I’m telling you, if you want a great half-day hike, you can’t beat an out-and-back trip to Lonesome Pine. Take your lunch, but you’ll have trouble chewing with your jaw dropping open from the scope of the view.
Still many miles to go, so I caught up to Lenny and we continued on Noland Divide. The next section of the trail towards Pole Road Creek Trail leveled out and the walking was easy. There were chunks of quartz on the slopes, including this one beside the trail about the size of a refrig- erator. Along the AT ridgeline we could clearly see Clingmans Dome and Mount Collins, but we couldn’t see the tower. I finally stopped and pulled out my glasses and could see a white line that is the parking area, but no tower. I guess we were just a little too low. Anyway, yet another vantage point in the Park from which I’ve seen the highest peak in Tennessee. I had that déjà vu feeling from when Don and I hiked on Thomas Divide in January.
At the junction we headed down Pole Road Creek Trail. I don’t have any information on how this trail was named – any guesses about the “road” part? The “brown book” offers no help – its description is rather short and limited to the flora on the trail. The trail began as a comfortable downhill stroll, then I noticed a roaring sound and hoped it was Deep Creek way, way down in the valley – but no, there’s that little matter of the “creek” portion of the name. Pole Road Creek was waiting for us. In total we had four serious crossings, two that I was able to rock hop and two that I had to wade. I took the time to change to Crocs for them both, and also zipped my hiking pants legs off as the day had warmed up quite a bit. One of the rock hops was actually the biggest challenge. The creek had overflowed so wide that it flowed along the trail for quite a ways, making it difficult to pick the trail back up. But hey, I’m here, so we must have figured it out, right? And as we lost elevation, the wildflowers began to emerge. Wildflower experts - is this Fraser's sedge?
At last we reached the end of Pole Road Creek Trail and the long bridge over Deep Creek to connect us with the Deep Creek Trail. I had that home-free kind of feeling, but, boy, was I wrong! We had nearly 7 miles to go. At Campsite 56 we saw two trail volunteers repairing the bear cables. Let me stress the word volunteer – these guys hiked 7 miles in and 7 miles back out to repair bear cables.
Did you know that every backcountry campsite has a name as well as a number? (Look on the $1 map.) As I mentioned in my post from my January hike with Don, Campsite 57 is called Bryson Place and was the site of Horace Kephart’s last permanent camp. In January we looked for the millstone without success. Well, Lenny and I spent a significant amount of time looking for it today but still didn’t locate it. If anyone out there can give me clues, I’ll have to go back and look again. The campsite is quite large and there was lots of forsythia blooming – also a bit of trash around the campfire ring. (Horace would not be pleased.)
The next 4 miles of Deep Creek was a surprise up-and-down – again, I should have paid more attention to the elevation profile in the “brown book”. This section was very tiring and made for a long drawn-out end to the hike. There was lumber deposited at intervals, I assume for extensive trail maintenance going on. Lenny and I leapfrogged each other along this part as one stopped for a rest break, then the other. We saw campsites along the way, some occupied, even though this was a Monday. This is an easily accessible and therefore popular section of the Park – go elsewhere if you are looking for solitude, but this is a happening place if you like company.
Lenny and I parted at Deep Creek Horse Trail, which he needed to hike as part of his Smokies 900. I walked the rest of the way along Deep Creek, pausing to sit on a couple of benches – my feet were hurting once again. I passed a dozen folks out for an afternoon walk or run along the last couple of miles of Deep Creek Trail. Can you imagine being a resident here, having a National Park so accessible that it’s like your everyday town park? It didn’t feel crowded, just felt like a fun place to be. I walked (okay, limped) through the hiker parking and picnic area to our cars at the trailhead (the horse parking area) right at 5:00 p.m. and waited for Lenny. He emerged triumphant from the Deep Creek Horse Trail about 20 minutes later.
Once again I began the long drive home and a feeling of sadness lingered with me, disbelief that this adventure is nearly over. I have one more multi-day trip and then my grand finale hike on April 11. As with every major event in life, whether it be a party, a reunion, graduation, a wedding, or just a big vacation, there is a let-down after the fun is over and the dust is settling, and the big question, “What next?”
I watched an awesome sunset in my rearview mirror and thought about that.
After a day's walk everything has twice its usual value. ~George Macauley Trevelyan