Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wouldn't Take Nothin' For My Journey Now

Smokies SB6K Backpack Trip – Day 3 – 6/10/12 – AT/Snake Den Ridge Trail – 13.1 Miles

Through the night I dozed and listened, quiet except for a raucous chorus of frogs in the wee hours.  Rain was predicted the day before but it avoided us.  According to Jeff, rain was again predicted for today beginning at 7:00 a.m.  But rain or shine, this was our last day and I could handle whatever came.  By 7:00 a.m. we were packing up and still dry. 

Raindrops began to whisper on the shelter roof at 7:30 a.m.  Ah well…

Suited up for a wet day – two SB6K summits to go. 

Despite the clouds, we still had a view and some rhodos blooming on the AT

An old granddaddy rhododendron bush covered in glowing lichen

From time to time I am asked which trail in the Great Smoky Mountains is my favorite, and my standard answer is that I have some favorite days hiking there due to a combination of the trail, the weather, my fellow hikers (or solo), and the events on that hike.  But…it’s hard to downplay the uniqueness of the Appalachian Trail following the ridgeline of the Smokies.  Every step of it is infused with magic if you open yourself up.   North Carolina drops down over one shoulder and Tennessee drops down over the other.  Impressions of tens (hundreds?) of thousands of footsteps are underneath your feet, of humans on a soul-searching walk or animals looking for lunch.  The 2-by-6-inch white rectangles painted on the trees are the same as the ones in Maryland and in Maine.  So whether the sun is shining or the rain is dripping, the AT through the Smokies is a special place to be.  

Rain gear doesn’t really keep you dry when it’s above 50 degrees, because you sweat inside with the exertion of hiking.  But it makes you think you’re staying dry.  And today it served another purpose:  protecting us from more scratches and scrapes during our bushwhacking.  The rain tapered off but the woods were saturated as we began our next-to-last and most difficult SB6K summit, Mt. Guyot on the AT.  Jeff’s memory of Mt. Guyot was accurate:  a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad bushwhack.  The half-mile slog uphill took us a solid hour.  Even with Jeff’s GPS track, we tried and abandoned a couple of routes near the summit because of additional deadfall since his last visit.  The blackberry briars grew way overhead and we spent a lot of time stomping a path through (which helped a lot on the return, only a half hour).  

Slimy snails were everywhere, a bumper crop, and they seemed to bother me much more than the thought of gigantic rattlesnakes.  Grabbing onto tree trunks and branches, a few times I squished a little fellow and shrieked, doing a little dance of disgust as I wiped my hand on my rain pants.  YUCK.

The summit of Mt. Guyot at last.  Yes, this is worth it.

The final summit of Old Black was also difficult but much shorter, a .4-mile roundtrip.  A bit anti- climactic after Mt. Guyot, but a triumph nevertheless.  Now all we had to do was walk to my car – about two miles on the AT and then 5 miles down Snake Den Ridge Trail.  Downhill sounded great, but I knew that by trail’s end my thighs would be shaking and my knees would be aching.  But hey, I just finished bagging seven off-trail peaks in the Smokies!  I felt great.  

Continuing northbound on the AT past Old Black, we kept our eyes peeled for the remains of an F-4 Phantom fighter plane that crashed into the ridge near Inadu Knob in 1984.  Fragments from the wreck are scattered around the area close to the AT intersection with Snake Den Ridge Trail.  I had not seen this the last time I was here.  I don’t know how I missed it then, but it is very obvious just off the trail to the right.  Jeff guessed that some of the pieces had been collected together at this spot.

We turned left onto Snake Den Ridge Trail and began our long descent.  At the next intersection we split up.  Jeff turned onto Maddron Bald Trail so he could get in some new miles and also check out the Albright Grove Loop, a .7-mile side trail through rare old growth hardwood forest.  I continued on down Snake Den Ridge.

The smoky view from Snake Den Ridge Trail

Galax blooms lining the trail

Something big was digging around here not long ago

Can never have too many photos of rhododendron up close

Crossing Inadu Creek on Snake Den Ridge Trail, I met a fellow here who had backpacked in overnight carrying a huge camera and tripod

Alternate-leaved dogwood

Fun fungi

A half-mile from the end of Snake Den Ridge Trail is the Williamson Cemetery.  Most of the graves date from the early 1900’s, but noteworthy is a marker dated 1982 for Ella V. Costner, a World War II POW and Poet Laureate of the Smokies.  

The day was not over when I arrived at the trailhead.  I walked through the Cosby Campground to the hiker parking area and saw my precious Honda Pilot waiting where Daniel and Mike had left it, along with a note of their whereabouts today.  Turns out they were walking the same trail as Jeff (Maddron Bald) but we missed them by a couple of hours.  I changed clothes, cleaned up a little, and went in search of the Maddron Bald trailhead, going completely on memory several years old.  Luckily I recognized road names and landmarks.  After a short wait, Jeff stumbled up with tired, sore feet and was ready to go home.  Me too.

I knew that this weekend would be hard, hard work…and it was.  Yet for all that physical effort and discomfort, the feeling of being on a trail was as uplifting and transformative as always.  I don’t know if I will ever go bushwhacking again without a specific challenge goal, but I hope I can keep hiking the trails forever.

Thanks, Jeff.

Wouldn’t take nothin' for my journey now.  ~Jimmie Davis


Linda W. said...

Congrats on reaching 7 summits! Yes, I'm not a fan of bushwacking either. Especially through wet underbrush. But like you I love the wild rhodies! Really enjoyed the stories from your latest trip.

megan said...

great post mom! i am proud of u.