Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Back To Where I Started - Solo Backpack

Solo Backpack in the Smokies – Day 2 - 4-12-12 – Indian Creek Motor Trail/Thomas Divide Trail/Deeplow Gap Trail/Cooper Creek Trail/Deeplow Gap Trail/Mingus Creek Trail – 12 Miles

I woke up at 7:15 a.m. after a 10.5-hour “nap”.  It was an eerily quiet night, no interesting animal sounds out beyond the safe walls of my silnylon tent.  I was a little disappointed.  I at least expected to hear an owl out there somewhere.  No crickets, no frogs…too cold, I suppose. 

And it was cold, about 30 degrees.  I slept in a few layers but not everything that I had brought.  The condensation on the inside of my tent froze soon after I exited and I got frozen fingers while packing up.  (I’m not too picky about packing a wet tent if I’m not sleeping in it again; I just stuff it into a plastic garbage bag and strap it onto my backpack.  When I get home the tent gets spread out in the garage for several days to dry thoroughly.)   

My appetite was zero and I just wanted to get moving to get some heat going.  By 8:00 a.m. I was very slowly making my way up Indian Creek Motor Trail.  I was still in the shadows but the sunlight was trickling down the mountainside opposite me. 

(Fun fact:  Indian Creek Motor Trail was originally intended as a scenic auto road but the idea was abandoned.  No cars here, just a steady 1.8 miles of uphill.)

I pulled out a power bar to eat because I knew I should.  I’ve said before, I am not good at eating while walking, especially uphill, thus the snail’s pace.  But the increasing light, the now-awake birds calling back and forth, and the quiet absence of the wind from the day before filled me up and I felt like I was right where I should be. 

Trail view – new spring leaves emerging

Indian Creek Motor Trail intersected with Thomas Divide Trail at a different point than I left it yesterday.  I turned left and hiked 1.5 miles uphill, then 1 mile downhill on the TDT to the next intersection, Deeplow Gap, completing the circle that I started yesterday (yeah, I know, makes no sense unless you’re looking at the map.)   

Here I turned right onto Deeplow Gap Trail – like yesterday, this section was a horse trail in surprisingly poor condition, random tree limbs and some very wide muddy spots churned up by horse hooves. 

A painted trillium on Deeplow Gap Trail

Trail view

The jewel of Deeplow Gap Trail is Little Creek Falls.  A tad over six miles in from Newfound Gap Road (a 12-mile round trip), Little Creek Falls does not see casual visitors.  When I was here in August of 2008 the 95-foot cascade was a trickle worthy of a quick look, but today I could hear it thundering long before I crossed the top of it.  The trail wound around and down the side of the falls and then crossed at its base.

Spectacular Little Creek Falls

Crossing Little Creek at the base of the falls

Next came the intersection with Cooper Creek Trail, a short half-mile trail out to the Park boundary.  At the end is a fish hatchery where we got permission to park in 2008 during my Smokies 900 hiking, but I am not sure of the status of that road now.  I’ve heard some have been greeted by “Closed” and “Private Property” signs.  If you can get in this way, it’s a short hike up to Little Creek Falls.  Otherwise, get ready for those 12 miles. 

My memory of Cooper Creek Trail was of a wet, rocky, old road bed, and from the trail intersection I could hear and see a big creek crossing.  I sat down and removed my boots, put on my Crocs, decided to zip off the legs of my hiking pants, stowed them in my pack, had a snack…anything to delay this creepy little trail. 

Finally I set off, and closer to the rushing creek I saw a very nice footlog bridge off to the side.  All that prep time.  Le sigh. 

And Cooper Creek Trail was not so bad, very level.  One section that seems to stay swamped has a nice bypass trail that I had not seen the first time around.  The trail passes some very simple modest houses but no guard dogs were on duty today. 

A half hour later I was back at the intersection again, boots laced up and turning right onto my last section of Deeplow Gap, still a messy trail but the creek was a nice companion running alongside.  I passed the remains of a homestead with two stone chimneys as evidence of the good life of days gone by.  This must have been a very large home. 

A nice sunny lunch spot, a big log to sit on. 

Deeplow Gap Trail turned away from the creek for my last climb and intersected with Mingus Creek Trail, closing the second loop of my overnight trek.  By now I was tired and looking forward to ending the hike.  But first there were three miles of downhill, which is always eagerly anticipated during a lung-busting uphill but in reality worse because the legs and knees take some major stress.  But…the sun was still shining, the flowers were abundant and I was still in the Smokies. 

Back at Mingus Creek

I still had half an afternoon and an evening to entertain myself because the next day I planned to meet my old hiking buddy Judy on the Tennessee side of the Park for a short dayhike.  Judy is very close to finishing the Smokies 900, with little snippets of trail here and there.  I planned to camp at the Elkmont Campground, but when I checked it out only one section was open and it looked pretty full.  I confess, I didn’t need much convincing to opt for a hotel room in Gatlinburg with a shower and a soft bed. 

Before I went into G’burg, though, I investigated the restoration of the Elkmont Cottages, once summer homes for wealthy Knoxville families before the Park was established.  The homeowners brokered a deal with the Park for leases, some even extended into the 1990’s, but eventually all the homes were unoccupied and the inevitable decay process began.  A few years ago the Park determined to refurbish a section of the cottage community.  Read more about the ElkmontCottages here. 

To my delight, my favorite Italian restaurant in Gatlinburg was still open for business and I settled myself in a little booth in the back for delicious salad and lasagna and a bottomless Diet Coke.  We must stay hydrated! (Their pizza is excellent too).   I wrote notes about my adventures on the back of the paper placemat.

Can’t wait to see Judy tomorrow!

The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been. ~ Albert Einstein

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