4/4/09 – Porters Creek Trail/Brushy Mountain Trail/Porters Creek out-and-back and Gatlinburg Trail – 15.8 Miles
Today was my last big climb of the Smokies 900 and I was looking forward to seeing my hiking buddy, Chris Hibbard of YourSmokies.com. Chris spends more time in the Park than anyone except the critters and he can teach the interested listener all day long. Chris has hiked every trail in the Park multiple times and was being kind enough to accompany me up Brushy Mountain. We met at 8:00 a.m. at the Porters Creek trailhead – can you believe we were the first people there? We knew when we came out that the place would be packed, since it was a beautiful wildflower Saturday.
We moved quickly up Porters Creek to the Brushy Mountain Trail and bypassed the John Messer place, planning to stop on our return route. Brushy Mountain is a steady uphill climb, an absolutely beautiful trail, and as it climbs up the slopes of Mt. LeConte its switchbacks leave you wondering why you are walking away from Brushy Mountain. There are a couple of crossings of Trillium Branch, one featuring this unexpected (for me) and enchanting cascade. We took note of an incredibly large and seemingly healthy hemlock beside the trail – we couldn’t find any evidence that it was being treated for hemlock woolly adelgid and Chris made a note of it to ask the Park service. The wildflowers were faring better in today’s sunshine and the trout lilies were outstanding. We walked through moss-covered boulder fields and dying stands of hemlock. The trees in this photo seemed to grow right out of the rocks towering 50 feet above the trail. At last we reached the intersection with Trillium Gap Trail and turned right to head for Brushy Mountain’s summit. All the way up we exclaimed at the picture-perfect day – as Chris said, a “10 out of 10”.
The trail here is deeply carved in the mountain laurel and it reminded me of the spur trail to the Jumpoff. At the top the trail wanders around to viewpoints in three directions, west toward Pigeon Forge, north towards the Greenbrier Pinnacle section, and south towards the peaks of Mt. LeConte (over my shoulder here). One little mountain was particular interesting as it insinuated itself directly in the view of Pigeon Forge – it was obviously outside the Park boundary and neither of us knew what it was. Chris pointed out his mountain where he lived in Sevierville and the encroaching development on nearby summits. We had the place to ourselves for all of seven minutes before a couple of groups emerged from the mountain laurel tunnel.
We sat down to eat facing the Jumpoff and Charlies Bunion and stayed longer than I’ve sat down anywhere these past winter months. In preparation to leave, Chris walked over to the Pigeon Forge view to try to get a cell signal to update his Twitter fans (gotta love that technology!) There was a multi-generational group having lunch there, and soon the elderly gentleman of the group came over to start a conversation – reminded me of my dad, who could talk to anybody about absolutely anything. “Hi, have you been up here before?” and so on. I did not ask his age, but I’d put him in his late 70’s. Chris, a skilled interviewer, asked if he was from around here – yes – was his family from around here – yes – and then the $64,000 question: What is your family name? Ogle.
Now, that name is woven all through these mountains and opened a broad conversation about his family members that lived in the Park and shared some great stories. Then he turned around and pointed to the little mountain in front of Pigeon Forge and told us that his daddy was born and raised right at the base of that mountain, used to be called Roundtop. We thanked him for his time, wished him a great day, and as we turned to retrace our steps Chris commented, “What are the chances that we would be up here today, that we would wonder about that mountain, and then we would meet an Ogle up here that knows the answer?” Nothing is by chance.
Time was getting away from us and we picked up the pace going back down the mountain. More than halfway down we met two guys, one of whom Chris knew and had done some off-trail exploring with, and we stopped to talk. Doug and Dan were fun guys, full of information. The point where we were talking was at a large rock (see photo) and Dan told me he called it Love Rock because the impression on it looked like a tractor seat and he could just imagine the woman who sat on it to make that mold. Ha! Gotta love that…Doug and Chris were deep in conversation about the many homesites and cemeteries in this part of the Park (Greenbrier) and Doug showed me his laminated copy of a hand-drawn map created by Lucinda Ogle (that name again!) that he obtained from the Park’s archives, drawn totally from her memory and not to scale, but not too far off scale, either. He gave us a rapid, detailed description of a homesite to look for on our way further down (went mostly over my head) and we parted company.
Chris and I talked about how to spot homesite conditions, flat sections that might have been old roads and fields, rock piles and so on. We began to recognize some of the things Doug had told us to look for, and suddenly we were off-trail , found a road bed, an old chimney, then a rock wall down to a creek bed, and one side of the creek bed was totally lined with stones. Wow! Then we picked up a faint manway to see where it went (we knew we were close to the end anyway) and followed it to the John Messer homestead.
When we returned to the Porters Creek Trail, the gates had been opened and a steady stream of people was walking to see the wildflowers – old, young, big, small, toddlers, sweethearts, everyone was out in the beautiful day. We saw one guy with a huge backpack and his girl carrying absolutely nothing – i.e., it’s the only way she would agree to go camping with him. And, yes, the parking lot was overflowing and cars parked all up and down the gravel road. Spring is here! What an outstanding day!
I left Chris and drove back to Gatlinburg for my last hike of this trip – Gatlinburg Trail. I parked at the Happy Hiker Outfitters, asked permission to leave my car (they said yes) and then walked the Gatlinburg Trail to the Sugarlands VC. The first half is a nice little greenway, the second half is a bit dull as it passes Park maintenance buildings, but it follows the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River which looks mighty powerful. In some places you can step off the path and soak your tootsies. The most interesting sights along the path are an intact old chimney, a unusual set of round steps from a homesite building , and a cemetery right by the Visitor Center. Of course, I paused there and took a couple of photos. Then I retraced my steps back to my car at the Happy Hiker.
I could not resist driving Newfound Gap Road through the Park. There were lots of cars out and many people stopped at every overlook. The air was warm, the sky was a deep blue and there was the slightest hint of spring green in the lower elevations. We didn’t know then that two days later it would be snowing!
One more trail to hike and then this adventure will be done. Now, about that old hand-drawn map and those old manways...
"The trails of the world be countless,
And most of the trails be tried;
You tread on the heels of the many,
Till you come where the ways divide;
And one lies safe in the sunlight,
And the other is dreary and wan,
Yet you look aslant at the Lone Trail,
And the Lone Trail lures you on."
~Robert Service, The Lone Trail