Our original loop plan started from Abrams Creek Campground, but we could cut off 5.4 miles if we started from Cades Cove, plus Judy could pick up the one-mile Wet Bottom Trail. So we broke camp very early (the luxury of throwing wet tents in the car without careful packing) and drove to Cades Cove. Repaved with federal stimulus money for the first time in 40 years, the Cades Cove loop road was heavenly, no potholes or cracked pavement, more pulloffs – and people were actually using them (!)…at least for this morning as we sped toward the trailhead.
Judy hopped out to hike the Wet Bottom Trail. I drove on to the Abrams Falls parking lot and saw an astonishing sight – an empty parking lot. Was there a rock slide that closed Laurel Creek Road? Was there an all-points-bulletin manhunt that we missed? A cholera epidemic?
No, it was just early.
Judy arrived lickety split and made a decision – she wanted to hike the loop clockwise beginning with Rabbit Creek rather than counterclockwise beginning with Abrams Falls. It was her hike, plus I had done it the other way on my last go-round, so she’s the boss. It meant we missed the chance to see Abrams Falls without the crowds, but hey, any way you hike in the Smokies is a good hike, right?
It also meant that we started out immediately wading Rabbit Creek – wet boots again. BUT… it wasn’t raining. Turned out the clockwise route was a good one, because Rabbit Creek Trail in this direction is a couple of good climbs and then coasts down to Campsite 15 – good to get the climbs over with in the a.m.
At Campsite 15 there was evidence someone left in a hurry, with rope and water bottles on the ground and a large stuff sack hanging from the bear cables. We ate a snack while discussing the possible contents of the hanging bag – hacked up hiker body parts? We left it where it was and Judy reported it at the end of the day.
Hannah Mountain Trail is voted the easiest trail in the Smokies by Judy and me. I didn’t even use my hiking poles, just toted them in one hand. The “brown book” says, “The steepest part…is the last 100 yards where it drops sharply to Abrams Creek. To cross requires wading – extremely hazardous in high water.”
Noting the big rocks and the deep pools, Judy and I scouted Abrams Creek for quite a while before putting our feet in. We traded cameras and crossed one at a time to document triumph or tragedy. All the rocks are very slippery and on the far side are ledges of rock that run parallel to the bank and are covered with moss – a foot underwater. I made it safely across – Judy too – while a young fellow watched us from the far side. I tried to give him some pointers, but his English was limited, and I guess watching us was sufficient. He did take my advice and found a stick to use for balance – he made it across safely, too. Good, because I was not brave enough to rescue anybody.
Flower of the day - coreopsis
Onward to Abrams Falls and the mass of humanity. At least no one was jumping from the rocks into the pool today. Abrams Falls is a 5-mile round trip from the main parking area and extremely popular. We didn’t stay too long. On the hike out we passed dozens of people still hiking in, some prepared, some not. One young family all had backpacks, even the three-year-old, and I congratulated the parents on being prepared and teaching their child about responsibility in the outdoors. Others bopped along in flip-flops on the way to the falls, some with already-empty one-liter water bottles. Not even halfway there and the water is almost gone. And were they picking up on the fact that they were hiking down and would have to hike back UP?
Body language of kids on the trail – little ones stopping to look at every insect, young ones skipping ahead, teenagers slumping along bored, trying to get a signal for texting. We blew past them all as we toted up the hours of travel ahead, the drive out of the Cove, back to Judy’s house, and then my two hours home to Charlotte. Leaving Cades Cove was not as breezy as our arrival - no more nice guys at the pulloffs, just people on the lookout for turkeys and deer (no bears). Today’s hike concluded a huge section of the Park for Judy and she is close to finishing her Smokies 900.
Ready to go again!
The other day a man asked me what I thought was the best time of life. "Why," I answered without a thought, "now." ~David Grayson