Thursday, December 3, 2009

Watch Out For Cars

MST Hike - Day Three – 10/23/09 – Bradley Fork Trail/Chasteen Creek Trail/Hughes Ridge Trail/Enloe Creek Trail/Hyatt Ridge Trail/Beech Gap II Trail – 13.8 Miles

After carrying a full backpack for a few miles, the hiker experiences astronaut-type weightlessness whenever she takes it off. After carrying one for a few days, the hiker is accustomed to the weight but still welcomes the rest breaks when the pack hits the ground. I was optimistic for today’s hike in spite of the rainy forecast because we would be tripping along with little daypacks – sort of like hiking naked (but no sunburned cheeks today!)

It did rain during the night, but Danny and I were still carefree tossing the wet tents and gear into the cars, because at the end of the day we both would be headed home, where everything will be spread all over the garage to dry out. We hit Bradley Fork Trail at about dark-thirty A.M. to enjoy another day in the Smokies.

After a scant mile we turned right onto Chasteen Creek Trail for our big climb of the day, about 2,200 feet in 4 miles. Near this junction is Campsite 50; saw a few tents peaking through the trees. The lower portion of Chasteen Creek Trail is an old road bed. At a couple of turns we noted the CCC’s characteristic stone work. During the wintertime there are several good views of cascading Chasteen Creek. I always enjoy the white water splashing past brown leaves and wet gray rocks.

We passed a lone hiker and a small group of backpackers that had overnighted at Campsite 48. They reported that it wasn’t a bad campsite, but I was skeptical because my memory of it was as a sloping site with little level space for even a single tent. It’s a large area, though, with lots of water from creeks on two sides. Danny and I looked for it as we walked up, but never did see the post indicating the official site. However, I feel that the site we checked out is the true site because there were fire rings. If any readers have camped here, please let me know if you slept with your feet pointing downhill!

Saw this interesting tree stump with a back window

Chasteen Creek Trail changes character, becoming narrow and turning with sharp switchbacks as it climbs towards Hughes Ridge. My other experience on this trail was all downhill, so I liked the new perspective. (Remember, no heavy backpacks!) Still no rain, but no sunshine either, and as we climbed I noticed clouds creeping in to obscure the ridge.

A bit of head- scratching awaits the hiker at the upper end of Chasteen Creek Trail where it intersects with Hughes Ridge Trail. The wooden trail sign for Hughes Ridge indicates that going left leads 4.7 miles to the AT and going right leads to Smokemont Campground, with no mileage designation. The Chasteen Creek Trail sign beneath it indicates Smokemont Campground is 5.3 miles. The confusion increases a half-mile further up Hughes Ridge at the junction with Enloe Creek Trail. Here the sign claims that Smokemont Campground is 7.4 miles away. Interesting…in a half-mile we’ve covered 2.1 miles!

 The answer, of course, is that Hughes Ridge Trail itself used to continue 7.4 miles down to Smokemont Campground, but the section below the Chasteen Creek junction is no longer maintained. I guess we have to wait a while longer for this sign to deteriorate so it can be replaced with an accurate one.

The slow and methodical trek up Chasteen Creek Trail became a woo-hoo jaunt down Enloe Creek Trail. Try as I might, I couldn’t slow down, so Danny let me take the lead for her own safety. This trail starts out fun and becomes muddy slip-and-slide fun, a typical horse trail after a rainy day. The “brown book”, Hiking Trails of the Smokies, has an entertaining tale of Abraham and Wes Enloe, early residents of this remote and wild area. The story goes that a young woman working on their farm became pregnant and one of the brothers helped her move away to Kentucky, where her baby was born – named Abraham Lincoln. While the identity of the child’s father is sometimes disputed, apparently there was a strong resemblance between the Enloes and the esteemed president…

Anyway, we descended into Raven Fork Gorge, mostly virgin forest only selectively cut for larger trees. Enloe Creek is big and loud and roaring on the left. We crossed a footbridge and noticed that the creek was now flowing in a different direction – being the sleuths that we are, we realized that we had passed the confluence and were now following Raven Fork, even bigger and louder. The trail was still muddy and often very narrow, hugging the mountainside, and I wondered how horses passed along.

But the rain that caused the mud also created these two fantastic creeks tumbling down the mountainsides.

Soon we reached Campsite 47, a small site that at first seems really neat but upon inspection is very limited. It sits right beside a very large steel bridge spanning Raven Fork (you have to cross the bridge for access to the creek for water); the other side of the camp is up against a steep, rocky bank, so it’s not easy to cook far away from the tents or to make bathroom facilities. And the creek is quite noisy here. I like a babbling brook, but this is more of a dull roar.

The trail past Campsite 47 rises sharply up and the rain began to pitter-patter – time to put our rain gear on, our heads down, and haul ourselves up the mountain. I couldn’t resist a photo of this little hitchhiker on my boot – the wet leaves had been clinging to my boots all day.
More uphill awaited on Hyatt Ridge Trail and I don’t remember much conversation along this section. At the next intersection with Beech Gap II Trail we paused for another break and the rain began in earnest. We had 2.8 miles to roll downhill now to Straight Fork Road where we had staged Danny’s car. At the end of that last long mile, as I stepped out onto the narrow, gravel, normally deserted road, a bizarre parade approached across the bridge: seven vintage cars (Mazda Miatas, I’m guessing) out for a drive. I didn’t even think about my camera. The drivers waved…I waved…

Say it together with me, people: Every day is a great day in the Smokies!  

I am sure it is a great mistake always to know enough to go in when it rains. One may keep snug and dry by such knowledge, but one misses a world of loveliness. ~Adeline Knapp

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