Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cataloochee Wild Women Part 2 - How Many Women Does It Take To Change a Tire In the Backcountry? All Of Them.

Cataloochee Wild Women Weekend Part 2 – 5/22/11 – Little Cataloochee Trail/Pretty Hollow Divide Trail – 6 miles
(Some photos are mine, some are stolen from Leida and Joan's FB pages.)

Whispering campers and clanking cookware woke me on Saturday morning.  The Cataloochee Wild Women were in need of coffee.  We fired up camp stoves to boil water and prepared a whopping breakfast to fortify us for the day’s adventures.  But someone was missing…where is Leida?
As the food hit the table Leida came walking drowsily from her tent.  Seems that a glass of wine and a sleeping pill are not a good combination for her out in the wild.  Too late for food prep, washing all the dishes was her contribution to the meal.  She’s darn good at it, too.

Visitors to the campground during the morning:  yearling elk.  During check-in last night the camp host informed us that these yearlings developed the habit of walking through during the winter when the campground was closed and the presence of humans so far is not deterring them.  I am very curious to see how this progresses since cute yearlings become large adults and eventually something/someone could get hurt. 
A beautiful morning in the Smokies – time for a hike!  Getting all the wild women ready to go was like herding cats, but eventually we piled into Joan’s van and Lisa’s smaller car and headed for the Little Cataloochee Trail.  NC 284 is a narrow rough gravel road with many blind turns winding around the mountains.  My imperfect memory did not recall that the road deteriorated on its way to Mt. Sterling Gap.  I squirmed as I imagined Lisa’s car scraping and wished we had brought any other car but hers.  And it was about to get more complicated. 
I missed the trailhead and we continued to creep around the curves.  At last we reached a parking area that I recognized as Mount Sterling, far beyond where we wanted to be.  Hiking from there was not an option as it is an unsafe place to leave cars, so we turned back to look for Little Cataloochee Trail again.  Time was ticking away. 
Joan’s car began to make an unnatural sound and Lisa began honking behind us.  What now?  Well, we had ourselves a flat tire…a REALLY flat tire.  Eight women, miles from nowhere, no cell coverage, no AAA, nobody likely to drive by.  Then Suzi spoke up:  “Well, I know how to change a tire.”
Consulting the owner's manual

Suzi and Lynn on the case

With remarkable teamwork (Suzi and Lynn working, Joan finding and releasing the spare from underneath the car, and the rest of us nodding and taking photos), the flat was removed and the spare put on.  These are some wonderful wild women!  And now back to our regularly scheduled hiking.   
We started out on Little Cataloochee Trail, a wide road bed still opened once a year to transport families to visit Little Cataloochee Church for Decoration Day.   Just over a mile in sits the Hannah cabin, originally built in 1864 and restored in 1976. 
Up to this point the trail is gentle but then we began a long uphill climb to Little Cataloochee Church.  Along the way we met hikers who told tales of bear sightings – some wild women wanted to hear that and some did not. 

Little Cataloochee Church

Inside Little Cataloochee Church


Behind the church is a row of tables built at standing height, perfect for a picnic and an afternoon of fellowship.  We took a lunch break here and made a plan for the remainder of the afternoon.  Most of the group chose to backtrack to the cars.  Leida and Lynn and I decided to hike the rest of the trail over to Cataloochee Valley to a spot where the others would leave a car for us.
Fun stuff on the trail included:
Dan Cook Cabin, built between 1856 and 1860, extensively vandalized in 1976, then reconstructed in1999 using some original materials.

Remains of an apple house located across the trail from the Cook Cabin. 

From this point the trail shrank from a wide rocky roadbed to a narrow path.  Following switchbacks up the mountainside, we passed several extensive rock walls, some marking the location of the Messer farm.  The apple house that is now part of the Mountain Farm Museum at Oconaluftee and the Messer Barn located beside the Cataloochee Ranger Station were moved and restored from this site. 
Bear scat (Leida needed proof)

The highest elevation of the trail is at Davidson Gap, where we stopped for a breather and met two backpackers on a multi-day hike.  Meeting other enthusiastic hikers on the backcountry trails is always interesting and I was happy that my friends got to share that experience.

Trail maintainers used the fallen tree to make steps across the creek

Little Cataloochee Trail intersects with Pretty Hollow Trail and the trail again becomes a wide road bed.  This is Palmer Creek.

Back at camp, we compared notes and everyone seemed happy with the way their day turned out.  The flat tire saga just increased the epicness factor.  Chilled feet in the creek and chilled beverages in our hands were like a spa treatment.
Next up – dinner the Girl Scout way!  Deserves its own blog entry…

You must do the things you think you cannot do.  ~Eleanor Roosevelt

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