Thursday, February 26, 2009

Inside The Snow Globe

2/16/09 – Alum Cave Trail/Trillium Gap Trail – 14 Miles 

 A scheme had been arranged to hike with Wendell Liemohn of Louisville, TN. Wendell’s hiking blog was the first one I came across nearly two years ago in researching for my Smokies adventure. His profession before retirement involved exercise science and he is what we all want to be when we grow up – extremely active and healthy. He has completed the Smokies 900 and many miles beyond that as he helps others to reach that goal. We have communicated a few times and Wendell offered to hike with me if I ever needed a partner – so I grabbed the chance. He and I both took some teasing from our friends for “meeting on the internet.”

Wendell is a member of a loosely organized group of hiking enthusiasts in TN and he brought along four friends for our hike, so our group consisted of myself, Wendell, Leslie, Frank, Richard and Charlie, some of whom have also completed the Smokies 900 and some still in the process. When introduced, I reminded Richard that we had met before – Jim and I hitched a ride with him to the Gregory Bald trailhead back in June. The hiking world is very big and very small!

I was thrilled and intimidated to be in such good company because today we were going up Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte and then down Trillium Gap Trail. Had my previous three days of hiking taken their toll? Immediately upon leaving the car, Charlie and Leslie took off like lightning up the trail. Wendell good-naturedly walked with me for a while, but I knew that he normally would be speeding along as well. But even though Alum Cave is a strenuous trail, there was ice to slow us down and grand views to be appreciated, so the hike up did not seem as tough as I had anticipated. This is truly a trail for all seasons. (Check out this web page to learn about the trail before you go.)

If you have hiked up Alum Cave Trail, you know the sights to be seen, but if not, let’s just look at the pictures for a while:
The views start out like this and then get better.

Everyone has a photo from inside the cave

Rime ice on Alum Cave Trail - how cool is that?

Leslie going up the steps

Leslie again skating on thin (thick?) ice, holding onto the cable.

Don't look down!  Cables are icy too!

Cliff Tops - where you can watch the sunset if you're staying at the Lodge

Another awesome view with rime ice in the foreground

Lunch break in the sunshine on the porch - left to right - Frank, Smoky scout, Charlie, Richard, Wendell (Leslie is our photographer)

Wendell (standing) and Richard

A view you never get tired of

Yep, 26 degrees!

My primary goal for today’s route was to complete Trillium Gap Trail, but a secondary goal was to hike up Alum Cave Trail with the ice, which was an absolute blast. We all wore crampons or YaxTrax on our boots, but caution and cables and hiking poles were still essential. (Do YaxTrax work? Five of us wore them. I have now worn mine twice and they are fine. One of Leslie’s broke on this second use, but she thought she could repair it. So…they work great until they don’t!)
I did not know that Trillium Gap Trail would have spectacular ice oppor- tunities as well. After lunch on the porch we started down this trail also used to deliver weekly supplies to LeConte Lodge – by llama. It’s rocky and worn and challenging for the first couple of miles, and the ice was scary and incredible.

As we walked along it seemed to be snowing, although the sky was a beautiful blue. It was the rime ice falling off of the trees and it looked somehow different than snow. Leslie finally hit on the proper description – it was like snow inside a snow globe! This was a unique winter wonderland.

At the junction with Brushy Mountain Trail we all met up and then Charlie and Wendell took off at their natural pace (really fast) and we didn’t see them again until we got to the cars. The temperatures rose all the way to the mid-30’s and several times we thought we could remove our YaxTrax, only to turn a corner and hit another icy patch. We did remove them at last and soon we reached Grotto Falls, which is usually crowded in warmer weather but was ours alone today. The trail goes behind the falls or you can cross the creek in front (walking behind is more fun, of course – how often do you get to see a waterfall from the back side?) From here we still had some miles to go to our car at the Rainbow Falls parking lot. The trail map is a little fuzzy about the approach trails to Trillium Gap Trail and the trail junction signs are, too. Just what is Grotto Falls Trail? It’s not on the $1 map, but it leads from a parking area on Roaring Fork Road to Trillium Gap Trail. Leslie and I walked up and down these approach trails from all the parking areas so there would be no loose ends.

One of the benefits of hiking with a group is the mixing and matching, walking with one person for a time and then with another. No one feels obligated to stay with any one person and everyone is interesting to talk with. I got to know five new people and discover an entirely new universe of Smokies hikers. How fortunate they are to live so close to this wonderful place! Wendell and Charlie drove me to my car at the Alum Cave trailhead and I headed for home, grateful for four more safe, unique, challenging and totally awesome days in the mountains.

Here I am, safely returned over those peaks from a journey far more beautiful and strange than anything I had hoped for or imagined--how is it that this safe return brings such regret? -Peter Matthiessen

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

She's A Grand Old Flag

2/15/09 – Twentymile Trail/Wolf Ridge Trail/Twentymile Loop Trail/Long Hungry Ridge Trail/Gregory Bald Trail/Wolf Ridge Trail/Twentymile Trail – 17.1 Miles

Today’s hike was straight out of “Day Hiker’s Guide” as Hike #2 in the Twentymile/Fontana section, a lollipop hike. I was a little tired from my previous two days of hiking, and Don and Judy had completed a grueling 20-miler in the rain and fog the day before. In fact, they had hiked DOWN Long Hungry Ridge and now they were going to hike back UP it. We were prepared for wading through stream crossings along Wolf Ridge Trail at both the beginning and the end of the day. All in all, we knew a tough hike was coming and the saving grace was hoping that the weather would be clear for us up at Gregory Bald.

We walked just half a mile on Twentymile Trail before turning left onto Wolf Ridge Trail and – surprise – bridges! And these bridges are meant to stay in place, with cables everywhere. This is Moore Springs Branch, whose headwaters begin up near Gregory Bald Trail. (Jim and I checked out the spring back in June on our hike to Gregory Bald.)

After another mile we turned right onto Twentymile Loop Trail and encountered our first blowdown of the day. This trail is pretty mild and lovely with these feathery pine trees. Three miles later we turned left onto Long Hungry Ridge Trail, which starts off innocently enough until Campsite 92, and then starts going up the mountain. “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” says that “the name of this ridge and trail came from an event early in the twentieth century. Rain and high water kept a party of bear hunters marooned for days. They couldn’t cross the creek and nearly starved before getting out.” The creek is Twentymile Creek and it was a challenge for us, too, but we conquered it several times.

The climb up Long Hungry Ridge was relentless and it didn’t take long for Don to warm up enough to display Old Glory. Remember, you don’t want to get hot enough to sweat through your clothes, so it’s common to hike in shorts and short sleeves with temperatures in the 30’s. The day before, Don and Judy hiked this trail in fog, and thankfully today was clear with those blue ridgeline views that I love so much.

After many, many slow steps I heard Judy yelling, “I see Rye Patch,” where the trail levels out at an open, broad expanse where Richard Russell planted rye before the Civil War. From here we walked about a mile to the junction with Gregory Bald Trail. Somehow I did not remember how steep Gregory Bald Trail was going toward the bald, and it seemed we would simply never arrive. But at last -- our reward for our hard work – Gregory Bald! We put our warm jackets and hats back on and had lunch and could easily have had a nap in that special place on top of the world. Don and I had both been here before and it was fun to introduce it to Judy for the first time.

Me at Gregory Bald - Tennessee in the background

The view to the NC side of the bald.

This was taken by a fellow hiker we met at the bald. His name has escaped me, but I remember he was a young guy from Munich, Germany, currently living in Knoxville. He loves our mountains, but seemed to think the Alps are way cooler. Go figure...

Time to get going! We continued to walk west on Gregory Bald Trail to Sheep Pen Gap and the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail at Campsite 13, a huge and popular campsite, a great place to camp so you can see the sunset and sunrise from Gregory Bald. The mile from the junction to Parson Bald is a level walk and quite fascinating in winter, interesting fallen branches and misshapen trees. Doesn’t it remind you of the scene from the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy walked through the forest and the trees threw apples at her? Or maybe this tree is a rapper shrugging his shoulders and saying, "What up?" If you hike up to Gregory Bald from another trail, it’s worth the time to take this mile detour.

What can I say about the descent down Wolf Ridge Trail? Knees and thighs got a workout and we were happy to arrive at Campsite 95, signaling the end of the steep downhill. We had the pleasure of crossing the new bridges again and then retraced our steps on that last half-mile of Twentymile Trail. Just before the parking area Judy spotted this old boot being slowly claimed by moss. How did we miss that early this morning?

An observation made by Judy and Don was the subject of a running conversation during our hike today. Their hike the previous day originated on the Appalachian Trail at the parking area across Fontana Dam, but this parking area is a half-mile up the road after you cross the dam and pass this big sign. So…is that half-mile road walk (which is officially the AT) considered part of the Smokies 900? I didn’t want to get tripped up on this technicality (hey, look what I’m going through for that ridiculous Wet Bottom Trail) so Judy offered to follow me there and drop me off so I could walk down the half-mile of road. Don declined, and we said goodbye to him in the Twentymile parking lot, but at the last minute I noticed he was turning off the road to follow us to the dam. Don and I parked at the bottom, Judy dropped us off at the top of the half-mile stretch, and we had a pleasant walk as the sun went down.

Judy and Don headed for their homes, but I was heading to my favorite cozy hotel in Gatlinburg. Tomorrow’s agenda calls for an awesome, icy, hike with a group of people I’ve never met in my life. I just hope I can keep up.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Can You Show Me The Way to Cooper Road?

2/14/09 – Gold Mine Trail/Cane Creek Trail/Cooper Road Trail/Hatcher Mountain Trail/Little Bottoms Trail/Cooper Road Trail/Gold Mine Trail – 16.6 Miles

Today’s hike plan was a variation of Hike #3 in the Cades Cove/Abrams Creek section of the “Day Hiker’s Guide” starting from Abrams Creek Campground. I had never been to this part of the Park on the extreme western end in Tennessee, so Danny was the guide. Unfortunately, the signs for Abrams Creek Campground were down so we had trouble finding it (thick fog didn’t help much either), and in the interest of time we opted to start from the Gold Mine Trail trailhead in the Top of the World Estates community.

This Gold Mine Trail, unlike its counterpart on the NC side, was actually named because of a gold mine (albeit not very productive). Danny started out hiking with us today, still building up her strength. Yesterday she hiked for 5 hours and her goal was to hike 5 hours again today (which she did). In the first few minutes on the Gold Mine Trail we came to our first of several blowdowns for the day. Blowdowns, like creek crossings, are always challenging as we look for more than one way to get across the obstacle.

We turned left for a short walk on Cooper Creek Trail, which snakes its way from Abrams Creek Campground to Cades Cove, intersecting with many trails in this area. In total I walked this trail in four sections before completing it. We turned left again onto Cane Creek Trail, a rather flat walk of 2.1 miles to a big “private property” sign where we had a snack and then turned around and walked back. The main point of interest on Cane Creek is the Buchanan cemetery, where we saw old and new grave markers. This old one for two children reads, “Our darlings together in heaven”. The second one is also for a young child, intriguing in that there is no exact date of death. There is no way to tell just how recent this marker is, but it is touching that the descendants of the family felt it important to honor her.

Back at the intersection with Cane Creek and Cooper Road, Danny turned right while Lenny and I turned left on Cooper Road (again). Along the next 1.8 miles of Cooper Road I marveled at the colors in the sandstone rock, colors that remind me of the Southwest, oranges, pinks, slate grays, broken off in sharp chips everywhere, absolutely beautiful. The diversity of the Smokies is amazing. The rocks are different almost from each mountain to the next. When Lenny and I turned right onto Hatcher Mountain Trail, we began to see chunks of quartz. Along this trail there was also much evidence of fire and Lenny remembered a controlled burn before his first hike in this area several years ago. For the most part the forest was recovering nicely, but there were occasional charred remains along the way. We were so deep in conversation that we covered the 2.8 miles of Hatcher Mountain Trail in slightly more than one hour! It’s an easy trail, especially in the direction we were hiking.

We came to the junction with Hatcher Mountain and Little Bottoms Trail, where we had tagged up yesterday just before our famous fording of Abrams Creek. Little Bottoms Trail turned out to be my favorite part of today’s hike. “Hiking Trails of the Smokies,”, aka the “brown book,” describes it as, “although frequently used, this trail is recommended only for those who are sure of foot. It generally follows an old man-way shaped more by 150 years of walking feet than by shovel and mattock…It retains characteristics of mountain footpaths of the old days before the uniform graded trails were built.” Well, sign me up! At this end the trail is a goat path, narrow and ungraded, and with its share of blowdowns. (Here is Lenny doing the sideways limbo.)

From Little Bottoms Trail we began to see the clouds lifting and were reminded that the misty mountains were still all around us.

Here is another great rock. Can anyone tell me what this is made up of?

Eventually Little Bottoms Trail parallels Abrams Creek and there is a series of quick ups and downs. Running beside the creek the trail is sandy and beachy. Then there is a big climb up and away from the creek where Lenny stopped to rest. I went ahead, up the climb and back down it to the intersection with Cooper Road Trail (again). From here I turned left and hoofed it down to the trailhead at Abrams Creek Campground and then back again. Lenny had already done this section, so he had a nice extended rest while he waited for me. Then we walked the last 1.7 uninspiring miles along Cooper Road Trail (again) back to Gold Mine Trail. By the time we saw Danny and our cars, I think Lenny and I were ready to call it a day. We had covered a lot of miles.

At this point Robert Frost was once again invoked, as I had miles to go before I slept. Danny and Lenny were heading back to Townsend, where we had stayed the night before, but I had a hike planned for the next day at Twentymile and would be spending the night with my hiking buddies Don and Judy at a cabin at Fontana Village. This was the first time I drove the Foothills Parkway and the Dragon in daylight, very exciting and scenic! I arrived at the cabin shortly after my friends, where we hurriedly got cleaned up and then bellied up to the bar at the resort to wait for our table for dinner. In this remote part of the world, like everywhere else, Valentine’s Day was being celebrated.

I won’t go into the details, but I will say that our food was excellent and our service was the poorest I have ever experienced in a nice restaurant. They were overbooked, understaffed and unapologetic. I am disappointed that I can’t recommend them, since there are so few alternatives in that section of the state. Oh well…and I forgot my own pillow so I did not sleep well. Gee, can’t wait for tomorrow’s hike!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lost On The Trail

2/13/09 – Abrams Falls Trail/a smidge of Hatcher Mountain Trail/Hannah Mountain Trail/Rabbit Creek Trail – 11.6 Miles

On Thursday night I was a grateful guest at Lenny and Danny Bernstein’s home and early Friday morning we made the long pilgrimage to the Abrams Falls trailhead in Cades Cove. Danny has recently suffered a back injury but is working her way back to the hiking life. This weekend she was offering her services as trailhead finder and part-time hiker as Lenny and I covered new miles. The big excitement as we drove along the Cades Cove Loop was two pileated woodpeckers pecking on trees so close to the side of the road that we could have shaken hands with them. Yes, for this wildlife even WE stopped!

As we walked to the Abrams Falls trailhead from the parking area, we passed the sign for the Wet Bottom Trail and Lenny commented on having completed that trail. Well, me too, I thought, but then I paused…hmmm…I don’t remember coming out on that side of the bridge… Anyway, let’s go to the falls! The day was looking nice and it was a Friday, so not too many hikers out yet. In fact, we had the falls to ourselves for nearly ten minutes, time for some nice photographs without people climbing on the rocks. The morning sun and the spray were beautiful. The hikers that arrived behind us asked Danny where the trail kept going to, and she kindly tried to explain to them that it was a lengthy loop with unbridged stream crossings, which deterred them. I thought to myself, if you ask where the trail goes then you have no business going there. Am I being a snob? Just seems to me that a prepared hiker would have a map (they didn’t) and already know where the trail goes.

We left the falls and continued along the trail for perhaps three minutes before passing the spot of choice for the women’s “facilities.” Sorry if you are offended by the photo of toilet paper everywhere – I know I was offended seeing it for real. I have two things to say to all the women who walk in the woods – “ziplock bag” or “panty liners.” That’s all I’m sayin’…

Abrams Falls Trail rises high above the creek and follows it for a couple more miles past the falls. At the junction, Lenny and I walked the .2 miles up Hatcher Mountain Trail to tag up with Little Bottoms Trail (we planned to come at it from the other side the next day). Then we walked back down to meet Danny as she eyed the unbridged crossing of Abrams Creek. Here she would leave us to our fate.

Now, I’ve done a few crossings by now and I felt prepared. I had carried my water shoes because I didn’t want to stay in wet boots the rest of the day. Lenny is from the suck-it-up-and-get-wet school and he began crossing while I was changing shoes. I was a bit concerned when Lenny took a sudden turn and began walking downstream. He shouted that the rocks were very slippery and he was trying to get away from that spot. I could see a shallow section halfway across the stream so I aimed for it and plunged in.

Immediately I found myself in the same predicament as Lenny – a long moss-covered ledge that sloped downward so that ankle deep suddenly became knee deep. I looked over at Lenny and he did not seem to have solved the problem yet, so I began taking giant steps straight across, using my poles for dear life. I noticed that I could no longer feel my feet; the water was a tad on the frozen side. This crossing took me more than five minutes of careful (prayerful!) stepping. When I reached the other side, I sat down on a rock to dry my feet and saw that Lenny was still fighting the good fight, and a couple of minutes later he joined me on dry land. He said later he didn’t feel the cold because he had his boots on. I can say that this was the scariest stream crossing I have had in all my Smokies hiking.

Here’s Lenny pouring the water out of his boots.

From here we walked part way up the section of Hannah Mountain and stopped for lunch, then quickly reached the intersection and left turn onto Rabbit Creek Trail. We passed what we thought was Campsite 15 (didn’t see any bear poles) and I put on my Crocs again, this time to wade Rabbit Creek, not nearly as bad as the Abrams Creek crossing. Then we began the long steady uphill. During a break we looked at the NatGeo map and saw that we were climbing up Coon Butt Ridge, good for a smile at least, which gave onto Boring Ridge. It did feel boring, but the “brown book” says that “the ridge is not named for mundaneness, but rather for the Boring family that farmed the area.” At any rate, we were happy to see our last unbridged crossing of the day, Mill Creek, at the trailhead and parking area.

All during this hike I ruminated on that Wet Bottom Trail, which I thought I had hiked in January. At least we started the trail from the other end at Cooper Road Trail, but then we took the detour to check out the Oliver Cabin. From there we followed what we thought was Wet Bottom Trail to the Abrams Falls parking area. Now I suspected that we had merely walked a path to the parking lot and not the true trail. Well, there was only one thing to do...try it again.

Lenny headed to the car and I started on the Wet Bottom Trail. One mile in, one mile out, who needs to read a trail description? How hard can it be?

Pretty hard – in fact, I didn’t make it. After a few hundred yards I decided that I was on an animal trail following the creek and was about to turn around when I saw this doe placidly nosing around in front of me. (Hey, that tree looks like it was felled by a beaver.) She stayed put and posed for about a dozen photos as I walked in a semi-circle around her. When I left she was still there. I retraced my steps back a bit, turned left and started again. Soon I had to admit I was still not on a true trail as I approached the water again. This time I came within 15 feet of a great blue heron and watched it spread its wings and fly low and slow along the creek until it was out of sight – not enough time for photos, just enjoying this majestic creature. Another backtrack, and this time I saw the Cades Cove loop road and decided to abandon the trail and walk back by the road to my car. Wet Bottom is one of the shortest trails in the GSMNP and I have now hiked the first quarter-mile of each end, but the middle section eludes me. But even though I did not complete this trail, seeing the deer and the great blue heron made it a memorable and unique walk in the woods for which I am grateful.  

Now shall I walk or shall I ride?" Ride," Pleasure said. "Walk," Joy replied. ~W.H. Davies

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Going From Bad To...Not Bad

2/8/09 – Bradley Fork Trail/Hughes Ridge Trail/Chasteen Creek Trail/Bradley Fork Trail – 15.7 Miles

Early Sunday morning we woke up and discussed how we didn’t feel like doing this hike. I was tired and Jim was sick and tired. He decided to wear his sneakers for this hike, even though it was probable that we would see snow again. We drove over to the Smokemont Campground with the mindset that we would start out and see what happened; however, the hike plan was a loop with no bailout points. Another discouraging factor was a cloudy and gray sky. What happened to the sunshine forecast? I asked Jim about two dozen times if he wanted to turn around, because I didn’t want to see him get sicker from being out in the cold and damp. He kept saying, “We’re already here, let’s keep going.” Finally I stopped asking – he’s a grown man and can decide for himself and I should stop being his mother. So we trudged ahead.

We saw an excellent example of a busy beaver’s work along Bradley Fork Trail. The first few miles of this trail is an old road bed with several large bridges crossing the creek. As with all the big creeks in the Park this time of year, the water was gurgling and gushing and beautiful. Here’s a closeup of a pretty cascade.

There are also many examples of CCC stonework in places where they built the road over the creek. Some have become overgrown with soft green moss.

After 4 miles of rather pleasant walking we reached the funky intersection with Cabin Flats and we both stripped off the long underwear (fortunately not traumatizing any other hikers). Bradley Fork Trail took a sharp right turn and we walked into another level of hiking. Like the previous day on Bear Creek, we had 2,000 feet of elevation gain in 3.3 miles. The farther we went, the steeper it got. My gosh, why in the world do I DO this? At one point a giant tree had fallen level across the trail at about butt height, so we took a rest. This is what the trail looked like for the last mile.

Aaaahhhh…the junction with Hughes Ridge Trail at last! I was plenty warm from the uphill effort , but the wind was whistling over the ridge. We put on some layers and sat down to eat, and Jim commented on the formula for hypothermia: cold sweat, stiff breeze and mid-40’s temperatures. After five minutes we were packing up and moving on and soon we came to a bit of snow, although not as much as on Bear Creek. The traces of snow continued until we were well on our way down Chasteen Creek.

The trail sign at the intersection with Enloe Creek Trail indicated 7.4 miles to Smokemont – what? We thought we were closer than that. Then five minutes later at the intersection with Chasteen Creek Trail the trail sign indicated 5.3 miles to Smokemont. Hmmmm….Well, the first sign has never been updated since the original Hughes Ridge route that connected to Smokemont has been closed. We were just happy to suddenly have two miles chopped off of our hike. Also at the Chasteen Creek junction is this very cool wood sculpture that is perfect for photo ops. Jim is pretending that he is riding his bike.

Turning left on Chasteen Creek Trail, we started a steep descent that was surprisingly pleasant. The forest was wide open and the clouds were beginning to separate with a little blue peaking through. The psychological boost of a blue sky is amazing! We paused for a break at Campsite 48, a great spot between two creeks, but for the life of me I could not see a level spot to pitch a tent. Further down the trail widened and became less steep. About a mile from the junction with Bradley Fork trail is a side trail down to the creek with a place to tie up horses by a wonderful cascade. We also passed this blowdown across the trail that appears to have been shredded by some animal (bears?)

As we made our last turn back onto Bradley Fork Trail towards the parking area, Jim and I agreed that we were not as whipped as we thought we would be – in fact, we felt better than when we had started that morning and definitely better than when we finished the day before. I can’t explain it but I’m grateful. We even felt good enough to stop for barbecue on the way back home to Charlotte.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Most Important Equipment For Hiking With Your Spouse

2/7/09 – Lakeshore Trail/Forney Creek Trail/Bear Creek Trail and Back – 19 Miles

My husband Jim was my hiking partner this weekend. Now he has hiked with me one weekend out of every season. What a guy! Jim is a very strong road cyclist, therefore he has the legs and the lung power for some serious hiking, but his feet usually suffer. Every time we go out hiking he remembers that he needs new hiking boots. When I fussed that he needed the proper equipment, he calmly reminded me that he had the most important item already – the right attitude. Can’t argue with that. This weekend was forecast to be beautiful warm weather or we might have stayed home, because I was at the end of a bad cold and Jim was just beginning it. I give the guy a lot of credit because he really toughed it out.

On Friday we drove towards Bryson City but took a detour into Dillsboro to visit the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory, bought way too much candy and had a relaxing cup of coffee while reading the local papers. Then we backtracked to Sylva and walked around town, stopped at the City Lights Bookstore (a special bookstore where I bought my copy of "Day Hiker's Guide" that started all this craziness) and had dinner at Lulu’s (great food and local atmosphere). Finally made it to Bryson City and our hotel room and sleep.

Early Saturday morning while we were eating breakfast with one eye open, I noticed a young couple with daypacks. We walked outside about the same time, so of course I asked the usual questions, hey, what’s your name, where are you hiking, etc. They were Shannon and Rebecca from Savannah, GA, and they planned to hike up Bear Creek Trail to Campsite 75 for an overnight. What a small world! That was our route for our dayhike. On the way to the Lakeshore Trail trailhead I stopped to get a couple of photos of the early morning glory looking over the mountains.

At the parking lot we saw Shannon and Rebecca again and they snapped a photo of Jim and me as we set out for the day. Now, I was my usual unenthusiastic self about going through the tunnel yet again, but this time it was not nearly as bad. The low early morning sun lit the interior so much that it was never truly dark. I could see my feet and the sides of the tunnel all the way. We could see where water had seeped along the walls and frozen and fallen off in big chunks.

Don't let this photo fool you - it was taken three-quarters of the way through the tunnel as I approached the far end. It's a long 'un!

By the way, Jim had a surprise for me as we got ready to leave the car – his new hiking hat! A short story: while at a craft fair in Blacksburg, VA last fall, Jim met the fellow who made my now-famous hat. (His name is Ryan and he is a fascinating guy – check out his website here.) Jim told Ryan about my adventures and how popular my hat is – it is on Ryan’s customer photographs page. Anyway, Jim bought this dragon hat so he too can be attractive and unique on the trail.

On to the hike – We walked several miles on Lakeshore Trail, a route I now know well, having been on it several times. I saw a side trail that I remembered when I was here a couple of weeks ago with Carol and Stephanie and mentally bookmarked it to look at on the way back down. At Campsite 74 we turned right onto Forney Creek Trail, walked .4 miles and turned left onto Bear Creek Trail. A large auto bridge crosses Forney Creek here – looks a might chilly, doesn’t it? We began our long walk up Bear Creek, formerly a railroad bed for Norwood Lumber Company. Somewhere between .5 miles and 1 mile, I think, is an intriguing trail off to the right, unmarked except for one of those “no horses” symbols. I made a mental note to also check it out on our way back down if there was time.

Campsite 75 is a nice little spot by Bear Creek. There was a tent set up and packs hung from the bear cables but no people moving around. We stopped for a bite to eat and then began some serious climbing (from 2700 feet to 4890 feet in 3 miles) up Jumpup Ridge. Jim is faster than I am, which makes me want to go faster than I should, the end result being that I wear myself out and get a little cranky. At the crest of Jumpup Ridge we hit some snow that was deep enough to be challenging and just wet enough to be slippery, so I slowed down even more. It was hard work, thus the short sleeves while hiking in the snow. I am not smiling.

At the intersection with Welch Ridge we kissed the ground and take a break. From here we would walk back the way we came, my longest out-and-back hike ever in the Park. Funny, the walk downhill in the snow didn’t take very long at all. We tried to step back in our footprints. Along the way we met Shannon and Rebecca. They had set up their stuff at Campsite 75 and were hiking up to Welch Ridge and over to High Rocks, site of a former fire tower and a great view of Fontana Lake. I remember it well from my first trip back in April. When Jim and I passed Campsite 75 we stopped again, this time meeting the occupants of the first tent, who apparently had been snoozing when we were there earlier. They were also heading up to High Rocks. Then look out – here comes yet another group hiking in to stay at Campsite 75. What a party! I was amazed to see that many people at one remote backcountry campsite.

I noticed that Jim was much quieter and not smiling so much on the walk down – those bad boots were giving him a tough time. He stopped at one point to apply magic duct tape on the hot spots, which was pretty much his whole foot. Needless to say, I did not investigate the first side trail that was probably a fantastic old cemetery. At the second side trail we walked about 100 feet, just far enough to see a set of picnic tables, at least six of them set end to end, and the trail kept going. Probably the world’s most important secret homesite – I’ll have to see it another time.
The tunnel finally loomed into view and we made it back to our car. There was a pizza with our name on it at Anthony’s in Bryson City and we enjoyed every bit of it. Jim and I were both extremely tired after our 19 miles and Lord only knows how we were going to get up and do it again tomorrow. We needed a big old dose of the “right attitude.”