Wednesday, April 8, 2009

If A Hiker Falls In The Woods And Nobody Sees Her...

4/3/09 – Anthony Creek Trail/Russell Field Trail out-and-back and Twin Creeks Trail – 14 miles

Today the rain caught up with me – glad I didn’t have to see how much wetter Wet Bottom can get! I was the only soul in the Cades Cove picnic parking area for my hike up Russell Field Trail to the Appalachian Trail. Relax, this is going to be a short post because the weather did not improve.

My first 1.7 miles was on Anthony Creek Trail, nothing too exciting except the water was gushing nicely. I had only walked a half-mile when two backpackers passed me coming down. I thought I recognized the younger one, and as I turned around to double check, so did he. Turns out it was the two trail maintainers that Lenny and I had met repairing bear cables at a Deep Creek campsite a couple of weeks ago! And I was mistaken – the younger fella is a volunteer but the older fella is a Park Service employee. They had spent the night at Russell Field Shelter waiting on a problem bear, but the bear didn’t show up. Hey…I’m hiking up to that shelter now…

At the junction I turned right onto Russell Field Trail and began a steady climb. A couple of crossings of the Left Prong of Anthony Creek were interesting. I can proclaim that Russell Field is the muddiest trail I have hiked in the Park. Horses had been on it recently to churn things up and then the rain came pouring down. Fortunately, I had learned my lesson about wearing gaiters on the last AT backpack weekend so I had strapped them on this morning. They were totally smeared by the end of the hike and so protected my boot tops and pants legs well. All my attention was needed to watch my footing so I didn’t take many photos – but this fallen log was quite interesting.

Up, up, up Russell Field, to the gap where it reaches the ridge line and levels out. The wind was rather fierce here and I hurried along to get some protection where the trail slightly drops below the ridge. The clouds were so thick that visibility was about 20 paces ahead. Russell Field itself is a bald, today part grass and part forest, but once used for grazing cattle. This is what I saw:

So no need to linger, as the trail goes on up to intersect the Appalachian Trail at Russell Field Shelter. This shelter is still the old style with a chain link fence across the front and no extended roof and built-in benches and tabletops for cooking and lounging – although any port in a storm will do. No one else there, not even the problem bear, and I ate a lonely and soggy lunch while reading the shelter journal - lots of thru-hikers coming along now, leaving messages for each other. The last message written was by kygraybeard, who is actually a ridge runner for this section of the AT in the Smokies, reporting that a mama bear and her two cubs are back from last year looking for food at the shelter. I ate faster and then started back down the mountain.

One advantage of hiking solo is that no one sees you fall. I slipped on a water bar and gave it a good effort before landing splat on my side in the mud. Carol would have been disappointed – I did not stop to take a picture of myself. Nothing hurt but my ego, but it was a good reminder that slippery downhill trails are the best way to get hurt out here. Soon after I passed the alleged Russell Field bald I met two older gentlemen hikers who are aspiring to the Smokies 900 too – well, who else would be out on this trail in this weather? One of their first questions was do I hike alone often and do I worry about getting injured while alone? They said I could feel free to fall now because they would not be far behind to rescue me. Nice guys! But seriously, I do enjoy meeting other hikers and chatting it up.

The hike down was slow because of the mud, although still not much to see. In the last half-mile of Russell Field Trail the wildflowers were struggling to open, so I guess this is ordinarily an enjoyable hike. By the time you read this the trout lillies will be spectacular, I’m sure. I saw some interesting unfurling ferns, which I love because they have that “Little Shop Of Horrors” look to them. Feed me!

I passed a group of backpackers heading out for a weekend jaunt as I neared the parking lot. Kudos to them for not letting the rain change their plans! I hope they had a great experience.

It was early afternoon and I had time for one of the two short trails that remained on my list and chose Twin Creeks, so I began the long drive to Gatlinburg. Not many cars along Laurel Creek and Little River Roads, so I did not endanger anyone as I gawked at the enormous trilliums (both white and yellow ones) growing on the slopes alongside the roads. Can you imagine being able to identify those beauties at the blinding speed of 35 miles per hour on curving, winding roads? I’m telling ya, they was HUGE! And no place to pull over to take photos…which is why they are able to grow so well there…no one can pull over and disturb them.

I found the trailhead for Twin Creeks just past the GSMNP sign on Cherokee Orchard Road and squeezed my car into a pull-off. This trail would be great for families with kids, lots to see if you just start looking, rock walls and rock piles, gets close to the creek and then farther away, and now the trilliums are up close and personal and growing by the gazillions. I hiked the two miles to the intersection with the Bud Ogle Nature Trail and then back to my car. Hey…it’s stopped raining!

There was a pizza with my name on it waiting at Ogle’s Pizza & Pasta on Hwy 321 and my cozy little Smoky Pines hotel room. Gee, I’m gonna miss this part…  

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilerating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. ~Anonymous

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