Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Smokies 900: Fork Ridge Trail/Deep Creek Trail Obstacle Course

Deep Creek Weekend – 9/7/08 – Day Three – Fork Ridge Trail/Deep Creek Trail to Newfound Gap – 9 Miles

Another relaxing evening at our Deep Creek campsite where everyone did their own thing for supper, rehashed the day’s events, tried not to talk politics (ask Cathy about Obama) and planned for the next day. Fortunately for me, Carolyn and Ken/Jeff were willing to hike with me again and shuttle to Clingmans Dome Road. Carolyn’s bee sting was still there but she was up for another day on the trails – that woman is amazing! The rest of the crew chose different adventures and Kim M planned to bug out early and get back home. This is one thing I love about the Bergs – everyone is independent and flexible. And as long as I get my way, I’m happy…seriously, I owe all of these people some major support hiking favors after my project is over.

So packed up and out early, with the promise of a clearer start than the day before. For those of you with a Park map in front of you, we left my car at the Deep Creek trailhead on Newfound Gap Road and took Jeff’s car to the Fork Ridge trailhead on Clingmans Dome Road. Our plan was to complete Hike #11 in the Deep Creek area of “Day Hiker’s Guide.” The sky was crystal clear and we fought the urge to go up to Clingmans Dome for the view that was totally socked in the day before. We crossed our fingers that it would still be clear as a reward after our hike.

Fork Ridge Trail is 5.1 miles long and descends nearly 3,000 feet. Just before its intersection with Deep Creek Trail we forded Deep Creek, which was knee deep even with no recent rains. (This is the hike that Carol and Judy and I had scratched during our wet August trip, when we hiked at Ramsey Cascades instead – good decision.) The water felt great and after we waded through we ate lunch and enjoyed the peaceful setting.

Then began the deceptive climb up Deep Creek Trail. The elevation gain is about 1,700 feet in 3.9 miles up to Newfound Gap Road, but the first couple of miles didn’t seem too bad. We were following the creek, catching glimpses of multiple cascades and swimming pools. Hiking beside water distracts you from the rising trail.

Earlier I had commented that I thought all the trails were extremely well maintained, no major obstructions, just occasionally some fun stuff to crawl over. When will I learn not to jinx things? A little more than halfway up Deep Creek we encountered a monster tree across our path (see photo: I wish we had thought to put a person beside the tree for perspective). The slope was steep and there was no question of bushwhacking around this obstacle. It was shoulder high and wide and there were no limbs on it to grab. We pondered and puzzled and came up with a plan to get us all over it: Jeff went first. Then we handed him all our backpacks and he helped pull Carolyn over, and then they both pulled me over. We were scraped up a little and pretty dirty and extremely proud of ourselves. We agreed that this was the best hike of the weekend. But it made me think: what do you do if you are hiking solo and come across an obstacle like that?

Then the hiking got serious as the trail got steeper. Jeff’s GPS tried to keep up with all the switchbacks, but it seemed like we kept going and going and going and…wait, I hear cars! It’s the road! Just 57 more switch- backs…The last mile of this trail whipped us pretty good. Finally we popped out on Newfound Gap Road…Dude, where’s my car?

After dropping Jeff off at his car and waving goodbye, Carolyn and I went to check out what Clingmans Dome looks like on a clear day and were not disap- pointed.  For those of you who have not been there, this is the observation tower.

And this was part of the view to the southeast with glimpses of Fontana Lake.

And so ends another great weekend hiking in the Smokies. Thanks, everybody!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hiking From Top To Bottom

Deep Creek Weekend – 9/6/08 – Day Two – Forney Ridge Trail/Springhouse Branch/Forney Creek/Whiteoak Branch/Lakeshore Trail – 17.5 miles

Early Saturday morning in talking with Marta, we hit upon the notion that she, Ronda and Kim M could change from their plan and hike UP from the campground to Clingmans Dome if they could have my car to come back. Eureka! Can I have my lost hours of sleep back now? Even with a swollen ankle, this simplified plan in my head and my running shoes on my feet made me dance around the campground getting ready for the day.

The weather looked gorgeous as we moved cars, everyone crammed into mine and we drove through Cherokee and on up Newfound Gap Road towards Clingmans…but is that a cloud? Hmmmmmm, looks a little darker here…..And then the mountains just...disappeared. When we got out of my car at Clingmans Dome the fog was thick…and I thought to myself with dismay, these people are going to hate me. Then as the wind gusted and we put on rain gear I thought, I know these people are going to hate me!

But the Forney Ridge Trail started out as a hobbit-esque fairyland of boulders and spruce and fir trees, and about a mile from the trailhead we stepped below the clouds. By the time we reached Andrews Bald our faith was rewarded by the stunning views. (Cathy is standing on a rock strategically placed for photo ops.) By the way, hiking to Andrews Bald is only about 3.6 miles round trip from the parking lot and, although quite rocky, is a worthwhile trek.

Picking the trail up again at the far side of Andrews Bald is a little tricky but a big ole sign helped me out – I’m obviously not the first pilgrim to lose her way. Here at the very end of summer, Forney Ridge Trail was challenging with much overgrown vegetation, faded wildflowers, blueberry bushes and blackberry brambles. Apparently the blackberry crop was so good this year that the bears could not eat them all. At first we stopped for samples, but then we learned that we could each snag a couple of berries as we walked by and be assured that there would be more along the way. We practiced our tightrope walking as the trail went sideways along some steep ridges. Put tall vegetation together with a narrow path and you can hear mumbled expletives even from seasoned hikers.
Near the end of Forney Ridge Trail is a majestic oak tree that took five of us to circle around. This is a neat, cool, awesome tree! We hikers are often guilty of looking down, moving fast, clicking off the miles, and we forget to look up at the very things that create our little universe – the trees. The trees are always there, when the sun rises and when the sun sets, when it rains and snows, before we were born and after we are gone. If I hike this trail again ten years from now, chances are that oak tree will still be standing, waiting to be measured and hugged. I hope my children and grandchildren get to hug it someday.

And some trees are lying across the trail waiting for us to crawl over.

After 4.5 miles on Forney Ridge we reached the midpoint of Springhouse Branch Trail and turned right, going over some ups-and-downs and then a long gradual descent to its terminus at Forney Creek Trail. At this junction is backcountry Campsite #71, a very large, flat area sitting beside Forney Creek. This was once the site of the Bee Gum CCC camp, evidenced by brick foundations and this impressive stone chimney. Looks like a great place to camp and I hear it’s quite popular and spaces must be reserved. And horse parking is free.

Once again, I needed to hike a short spur to the right, going up Forney Creek to its intersection with Jonas Creek Trail and back, adding 2.4 miles to the day. Tarah, Cathy and Kim C. turned left and continued on the route to the Road to Nowhere tunnel, while Carolyn and Jeff stuck with me. What we had hoped would be a quick creekside jaunt was…not. The old logging road probably ran along by the water, but now the trail took a steep detour up the mountain and then back down creekside again. By the time we returned to Campsite 71 we were looking at our watches and ready to crank it up a notch.

Have I mentioned that Carolyn is allergic to yellow jackets? She had been stung on a hiking trip recently, not knowing of her allergy, and there was nothing available to treat her on the trail. She hiked several hours out, swelling up like crazy, and finally got treated. Fortunately, her reaction did not close her throat, but her allergy can increase. Now she carries Benadryl and an EpiPen and hikes in long pants even on sweltering days. Yellow jacket nests are in the ground, and hiker’s lore is that the first person to pass a nest wakes them up, the second person makes them mad, and then all the rest of the group gets stung. Carolyn likes to be the person that gets away.

So we really can’t explain how she got stung as we were standing and talking on Forney Creek Trail. Suddenly Carolyn was yelling and running – she had been stung on the thigh, right through her pants. We didn’t see any bees and no one else was stung. Carolyn took her Benadryl right away, and although the affected area swelled to the size of a handprint and hurt like the dickens, it did not get any worse. But now hiking was not fun as she obviously was in pain with every step and we were still nearly six miles from the cars. We kept moving down Forney Creek, left on Whiteoak Branch, left on Lakeshore Trail. By the time the tunnel appeared we knew that Carolyn would live and we cheered our 17.5 miles for the day.

Then we had to walk through the tunnel (shriek, shriek, shriek). We decided to go for it without flashlights. Now, you can see the light at the other end, but it is longer than you think and quite disorienting. There is graffiti painted on the walls near each end and unspeakable things lying there in the dark near the middle, I'm sure of it. I was honest about my discomfort and Carolyn and Jeff tried to act all big and brave, but that big lumpy thing near the far entrance bothered all of us (it was a rock).

SO to summarize: my feet felt great hiking in my running shoes - my car came back (after stopping for dinner) - Carolyn lived - it did not rain - there were no bears - nothing tapped me on the shoulder in the tunnel - WHAT A GREAT DAY!

PS: If you are interested in the Road to Nowhere and the tunnel, the story is too important to condense here. Read up about it at these sites for the background and some opinions:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Introducing The Cast

Deep Creek Weekend – Carolina Berg Wanderers Friends

Our complete cast was assembled by late Friday night:  

Carolyn, veteran Smoky Scout companion and major cheerleader for absolutely anything  
Tarah, recent Berg joiner and training for a triathlon  
Jeff, avid hiker, photographer, and coincidentally the only male in our group  
Cathy, long-time Berg and waterfall enthusiast  
Kim C, working on 50-states-by-age-50 (so she’s a young’un)
Kim M, a brave soul on her first Berg outing  
Ronda, veteran hiker/backpacker back from a hiatus  
Marta, AT southbound thru-hiker and fountain of knowledge for us all  
Me, the grateful organizer who was excited to be in the presence of so much greatness

A sidebar explanation – a couple of times I mistakenly called Jeff by the name of Ken and then could not stop myself. We decided that the name did fit, as Ken is the cute guy with all the Barbie dolls. So Jeff was Hiker Ken for most of the weekend – except when I called him Kevin…It really was not intentional, it’s just that when you get older you just do these things...

So Friday night we spent a considerable amount of time by flashlight determining Saturday’s hike. Marta, Ronda and Kim M were doing a loop hike, but the rest of us finally chose Hike #1 in the Hazel Creek section of “Day Hiker’s Guide” because (a) it started from Clingman’s Dome, which is a cool place, (b) it ended at the tunnel at Road to Nowhere, which is also cool and no one else had seen that, (c) we had multiple cars available to do the shuttle, and (d) I really needed to do this hike before Nov 30 when Clingmans Dome Road closes.

But the shuttle was not easy, as it called for placing two cars at the tunnel, driving my car to Clingmans, and then going back to Clingmans at the end of a very long hike to retrieve my car. That night in my tent I did not sleep well as I tried to work out different scenarios, but it looked like Ken/Jeff and I were in for a long day of hiking and then fetching.

By the way, this was my first night in my new Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent. I got to know it very well since I was not sleeping. It's hard to get used to a new tent, different way of organizing your stuff, where do you put your shoes and your car keys, but the verdict is that I like my new tent a lot. It is supposed to sleep two...if the second person is six inches tall and weighs two pounds and sleeps in the vestibule...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Deep Creek Weekend – 9/5/08 – Day One – Cooper Creek Trail/Deeplow Gap/Mingus Creek/Newton Bald/Thomas Divide/Deeplow Gap/Cooper Creek – 11.4 miles

This hiking weekend planned with members of the Carolina Berg Wanderers was shaky all week as we watched Hurricane Hannah forecasts, but by Thursday it looked like we were in the clear. Carolyn and Tarah and I hit the road at the ridiculously early hour of 7:00 AM to rendezvous with Jeff coming up from South Carolina for a hike near Bryson City. After a few where-are-you-now phone calls and a tour of Ela (the town, not the person) and its hardware store, we got directions for the Cooper Creek trailhead. Our little book said to look for an abandoned trout farm, but I am happy to report that the trout farm is up and running, as they did not want me to take up all their parking spaces…so we headed up the road in my good ole Honda Pilot. “Road” is a very generous term for the ground that we covered at .25 miles per hour so as not to bust a hole in my radiator from the boulders. Note to followers: pay the trout farm guy a few bucks and leave your car there.

So we began this crazy counterclockwise loop hike that changes trails a billion times (Hike #5 in the Deep Creek section of “Day Hiker’s Guide.”). Actually, I like that kind of hike because you’re constantly looking for intersections and the hike seems to go much faster. Carolyn started out in the lead, and after knocking down several thousand spider webs with her face, Jeff took over as Spiderman (foreshadowing: Jeff acquired several nicknames on this trip.) Being the only hiker with no poles, Jeff armed himself with a trusty spiderweb-knocker-downer.

We had a beautiful day and some speedy hikers, and after just a half mile on the Cooper Creek trail we turned right onto Deeplow Gap Trail. We climbed up to the intersection with Mingus Creek Trail, where I had been just a week-and-a-half ago on my solo hike. I thought about that rainy day when I sang to keep my nerves in check. Interesting to arrive at the same spot in the woods from a different direction. From here we turned left onto Mingus Creek Trail and began a steep climb. Now I was the tail end of the group and stayed far enough behind that they could not hear me gasping for air. On these steep uphills I am always asking myself, “Now, tell me again WHY we think this is so much fun?” The uphill mercifully ended shortly before the intersection with Newton Bald Trail where we paused for water and a little lunch.

Carolyn demon- strates the import- ance of hydration while hiking.

Then we cruised our way on the tiny section of Newton Bald and left onto Thomas Divide Trail for a long downhill trek. At some point Jeff gave up his post as Spiderman and slipped to the back of the pack, where he would disappear from time to time to shoot photos and then suddenly reappear. (Jeff is a fantastic photographer and all the good photos you see in the posts for this trip are his – the other ones are mine.) At the intersection we once again turned left onto Deeplow Gap Trail, and along here we discovered Little Creek Falls, a very nice surprise near the end of an otherwise not very scenic hike.

Somewhere soon after the falls I noticed that my right ankle was sore and found a very large bruise and swelling just above the bone on the outside of my ankle. This felt all too similar to the ankle injury I had on my first outing at Hazel Creek back in April. Sure enough, each step became more painful, not just in an ouch-that-hurts kind of way, but in a knee-buckling-I-don’t-think-I-can-walk kind of way. The last half mile backtracking on Cooper Creek Trail was rather miserable as I contemplated how I was going to hike for the next two days. I knew it wasn’t going to be with those boots on.

Back to my car, right where I left it, and we jostled over the “road” and waved to the trout farm, then headed back to Ela to retrieve Jeff’s car and made our way to Deep Creek Campground, one of the Park’s campgrounds accessed near Bryson City. I love this campground and this little town. There are many, many trails to access from this location and some great waterfalls. A couple of Bergs were already set up at our group site and the rest arrived over the next few hours. I wondered what to do about hiking the next day with my bad ankle, and finally someone suggested wearing my running shoes that I had tossed into my car at the last minute in case it was cold around camp.

Guess that’s what I’ll do.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Where In The World??...

Well, as you may have noticed, I have not been posting for a while. I am on a long-ago-planned trip with my better half and right now we are floating on a big boat in the Mediterranean! We've been to Croatia, Turkey, Greece and are heading back to Venice. And I haven't even posted my last hiking trip yet! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The View From Mt LeConte

Mt LeConte Trip – 9/3/08 – Rainbow Falls Trail/Bullhead Trail/Cliff Top – 13.7 Miles

Back at home everything dried up and we had a few days of glorious weather. In an email to Judy I lamented that my hubby was out of town, the sun was shining and I was not hiking, and Judy said, “Well, what are you doing tomorrow?”

So…I drove up to Judy’s house that night and on Wednesday morning we headed for Mt LeConte in the Smokies by the route we had ditched last week. The Rainbow Falls trailhead is reached via Cherokee Orchard Road in Gatlinburg. You drive through the heart of G’burg with all the hotels, restaurants and boardwalk atmosphere, and in about two minutes you are cruising through woodlands on a one-way road. Rainbow Falls is very popular because of its easy access, thus the trail shows heavy use. There are numerous shortcuts along the switchbacks, although it was sometimes hard to tell whether the shortcuts were made by people or running water from the recent heavy rains. (I suspect both.) Some of the interesting sights along the way:
There were thousands upon thousands of yellow touch-me-nots along Rainbow Falls Trail.

Judy and what I call a tree sculpture, a blowdown where all the soil has washed away from the tree’s roots.

A creepy-looking plant called doll’s eyes, know more for its fruit than for its flower. Interestingly, it is part of the buttercup family, and another common name for it is white baneberry.

The waterfall was not outstanding today, but still a nice snack stop. This is where most people turn around.

Despite the weather forecast, a cloud followed us up the trail, staying on our left side as we climbed to Mt LeConte, and we were a little disconcerted that there would be no views once again. I had been here only one time before, in August several years ago, when Jim and I stayed overnight at the Lodge, and it had…guess what…rained and been foggy for the entire visit. These high mountains have their own weather and it is often nothing like what is going on down in the lower elevations.

Surprise! The buildings of the Lodge came into sight and so did a lovely blue sky. As we stood on the porch of the lodge office, the cloud hung on the left/north side of the mountain and the sun shone brilliantly on the right/south side of the mountain. The cloud kept trying to creep up and a gentle breeze stalled it and kept it in place. So cool!

After a rest we signed the guest book and checked out the Lodge office, which is filled with photos on the walls of long-time visitors and hikers and history of how the Lodge was built. Then we turned our attention to Cliff Tops, which is where Lodge guests traditionally gather to watch the sunset each evening. (Sunrise is at Myrtle Point.) Here is what we saw from Cliff Tops that day:

Wow, huh? Now you can put this on your life list of places to go.

All too soon it was time to leave, as we had about 7 miles to hike down, 2 hours drive back to Judy’s house and then 2 hours more for me to get home. We headed down on the Bullhead Trail, which is probably the least used of all the trails leading to LeConte, and is quite rocky at the beginning but eventually becomes a lovely and interesting trail. On the way down we saw some stands of grass of parnussus, not a grass at all but a beautiful flower. About halfway down we stopped at the Pulpit, a seemingly random stack of stones on the trail, described in “Hiking Trails of the Smokies” this way: “The Pulpit is a stone cairn built by men of the Civilian Conservation Corps when they constructed this trail in the 1930s. Nobody told them to do it. Somebody thought it would be a good idea, and enough others agreed to get the job done. They carried stones from far and near. The Pulpit is tall enough for those who stand on it to get a good look northward down into LeConte Creek Valley. It’s wide enough for two or three to sit on.”

Down, down, down until the Bullhead Trail ended at Old Sugarlands Trail and we walked about a half mile back to the car. No bears today – Judy has never seen a bear on a trail. However, as we drove out of the Park on Roaring Fork Motor Trail (really a one-way road) cars were stopped twice to check out bears ambling around near the road. But seeing bears from the car window don’t count…
Got home very late, 11:00 PM, very tired, but one hike closer to my goal.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hiking Solo

Elkmont Trip – 8/28/08 – Day Four – Mingus Creek Trail to Deeplow Gap Trail & Back – 5.8 miles

All night long the rain pitter-pattered on our tents. Did someone say drought? Of course, back at my home in Charlotte everyone was paddling canoes by now. Judy and I got up, rummaged around for breakfast food, and as we sat under my beach canopy looking at another wet day we decided to call the whole thing off. The plan had been to hike up to Mt. LeConte for great views…and there would be none in this weather. I had had enough of being waterlogged and Judy lives close to the Park so she can do day hikes whenever she wants. I was reluctant but knew it was the right decision. This is supposed to be fun, right?

We packed up the whole soggy mess, threw it into the cars and said our goodbyes. At Newfound Gap Road, Judy turned left towards Gatlinburg and I turned right to drive through the Park towards Cherokee. And wouldn’t you know it – as I drove the sky got lighter and lighter and the color blue began to appear. My mind had an argument with itself about what to do. Keep driving, get home early, relax? Find a short hike to do alone and feel good about getting a little farther toward my goal?

I pulled off at the parking area for the Mingus Mill. This is an interesting place that Jim and I had visited in the past. It is also the trailhead of Hike #13 in the Deep Creek section of “The Day Hiker’s Guide”, a short jaunt of 2.9 miles in and out for a total of 5.8 miles. Was I ready for a solo hike after my bear adventures earlier in the week? I was talking aloud as I put on my boots – just do it, just do it, just do it.

And I did it. Mingus Creek Trail starts off as an old road bed. This was once the location of a CCC camp from 1933 to 1935. Like so many areas of the Smokies, there is evidence of buildings and old homesteads. There is also a target range for National Park Service rangers located here. I had read that there were two cemeteries along the trail but I did not look for them today. My guidebook said one was nearly a mile off a spur trail (later on the volunteer working at the Mill told me that it was, in fact, about a tenth of a mile…sigh…)

The trail follows Madcap Branch for a while, and the noise from the water made me hypervigilant listening and looking for you-know-whats. I was not enjoying this hiking alone business. I dragged my poles to make noise on the rocks and shuffled my feet periodically. As the trail began to climb more steeply, I noticed that my blue sky was gone again and a mist was forming. By the time I reached the intersection with Deeplow Gap, I was panting and the rain was absolutely pouring. I paused for a count of ten, turned around and headed back down out of the cloud and into the sunshine again.

Going back down I was able to breathe and so I began to hum and then to sing out loud. All the forest creatures covered their ears and ran in terror. And you know that once you start doing that singing thing, you can’t stop. I had “All Star” by Smashmouth stuck in my head:

The years start coming and they don’t stop coming
Fed to the rules and I hit the ground running
Didn’t make sense not to live for fun
Your brain gets smart but your head gets dumb
So much to do, so much to see
So what’s wrong with taking the backstreets?
You’ll never know if you don’t go…

See? Now you try to stop humming it! I was so intent on my performance that on one wet switchback I slipped and left my butt print in the mud. Let the next hiker figure that one out! I finally got off of Smashmouth, but the word “backstreets” got me going on Springsteen’s “Backstreets” and other Bruce favorites. And so it goes…

So an altogether uneventful hike for a change. I felt better for getting in a few more miles but I can’t say that I enjoyed it much. I cleaned up and changed clothes in the restrooms at the parking lot and went to check out the mill, then drove away on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping to take some fabulous photos.

Then I stopped at a gas station in Waynesville to call home…

And my car battery died. Here I am, a woman who has not had a bath in four days, putting the hood up and looking for help to jump start my car. Fortunately, Waynesville has the nicest people, because a team of experts suddenly appeared with tools to tighten connections, battery testers, you name it, and I was soon on the road again. Of course, now I could not turn off my car, and I had to go to the bathroom, and I had to ask some McDonald’s employees on their break to watch over my car while I ran inside…

Life is an adventure.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Difference Between "Woods" and "Forest"

Elkmont Trip – 8/27/08 - Day Three – Ramsey Cascades Trail Out & Back – 8 miles

Get ready – this is a short hike but a long post with lots of photos.

The original plan for today was to hike down Fork Ridge Trail and back up Deep Creek Trail, but there is an unbridged crossing on that route that is knee deep on a good day, and considering the rain situation we decided not to chance it. (We learned later how dangerous the high water was on many of the creeks and rivers – an experienced kayaker lost his life.)

Plan B became a hike to Ramsey Cascades because (a) it was about the same distance as Plan A, (b) it is accessed by a road that will be closed later in the winter, and (c) waterfalls are pretty great any time but especially after it rains. Ramsey Cascades is the highest waterfall accessible by trail in the Park. Makes you wonder what’s out there that is not accessible…Anyhoo, I’ve read that if you only have one day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, then go on this trail.

Only four miles, yet it is a challenging and beautiful hike. The path is full of big rocks and roots and moss, surreal like a fairy tale. After the rains the light had a green, luminous quality. There seems to be a difference between “woods” and “forest,” you know? “Woods” means trees, leaves, deer, birds, and “forest” means hobbits, elves, talking frogs…

The trail passes between two immense tulip poplars (awesome) and immediately after them is the daddy poplar. We unscientifically measured that it takes four people holding hands for its circumference. Judy was especially attached to this tree.

We also saw an excellent example of a tree that had sprouted on a decaying nurse stump, and after the stump deteriorated it looks like the tree roots are growing above the ground. Magical, huh?

We loved the rock stairs built in several places along the trail. Thank you to the trail workers and maintainers!

But where the heck are the falls? We keep hearing it and approaching it but….well, there’s a sign here (click on photo to read). Ah, nice…

 And the falls were spectacular! No one else here but us this morning, so we enjoyed a snack and rested for a while before giving it up for others to enjoy.

The hike back went quickly except for one quick stop for Judy to hug her favorite tree again. Once back at the parking area, we said thanks and goodbye to Carol as she headed back home to Charlotte. Judy and I were to spend another night camping and do one more hike tomorrow. But it was only 2:30 PM and the prospect of going to sit at a wet campsite was not appealing. so Judy and I headed to The Happy Hiker, a local outfitter, and got directions for a restaurant that offered vegetarian dishes. We had a whopping great meal at Best Italian. It’s hard to find but worth the effort! Too much food and we had to leave some behind, and later I wished I had it.

Still too early to hang out at camp, so we drove to Cades Cove, a place that Judy had visited maybe a dozen years ago. It was late afternoon and very few people were driving around the loop road. We saw several deer, both male and female, and turkeys galore. We checked out Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church, established in 1827, and the cemetery behind it. Among the most touching headstones are twin girls – look closely and see their birth and death dates.
Another intriguing headstone marked a Revolutionary War soldier’s final resting place.

Also buried here is Russell Gregory of Gregory Bald that I visited in June.

Finally it’s time to head back to camp…and it’s still raining. So nothing left to do but get into the tents early and snooze in preparation for a big hike tomorrow.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Singin' in the Rain

Elkmont Trip – 8/26/08 - Day Two – AT/Goshen Prong Trail/Little River Trail – 13.5 miles

Rain trickles
Rain pounds
Dawn glimmers
Car starts
Friends meet
Decisions made
Fog engulfs
Hikers persist
Boots slosh
Socks squish
Hats drip
Clothes soak
Creeks rush
Waters rise
Bridge delights
Flowers peek
Forest shimmers
Trees tower
Fairies hide
Houses appear
End nears
Darkness falls
Hikers rest
Rain trickles
Rain pounds

Our first night in Elkmont Campground was wet, but my good old beach canopy over the picnic table was great. The same cannot be said for my good old Quest tent. Carol’s side sprung a leak that we kept at bay with a towel and plastic garbage bags. We awoke to rain on Tuesday morning, which we thought was unfortunate but not the end of the world. We learned a lot that day about hiking in the rain.

We had plans to meet my friend Judy at the Clingmans Dome parking lot at 9:00 AM. The ride up took nearly an hour and there were few cars on the road. Clingmans is the highest point in Tennessee, in fact, the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail. It was August, but it was cold up there! A sunny day on Clingmans Dome is a rarity that we would not enjoy on this day. There was one other car in the large parking lot, and then Judy arrived. She hopped in my car and the three of us played chicken for a minute to see who would say, “Let’s bail.” Actually, we did discuss the safety of the hike, but the good old “what the hey, we’re here, let’s go for it” won out. The hike would be 13.5 miles downhill to the Elkmont Campground. How hard could that be?

All in all, except for the rain, it was an easy hike. This was Carol's first step on the AT as she prepares for her thru-hike a couple of years from now. Judy was also excited to set foot on the AT again, having hiked through here on a 900-mile section hike a couple of years ago. I was not too terribly upset because I knew I would pass this way again and hopefully get the views another time. The AT has a magical quality even in the rain, up there on the ridge where you know thousands of pilgrims have passed before you. When it rains it is sometimes referred to as the Appalachian River – today was a good example.

Goshen Prong Trail was tolerably steep and gushing and we were soon entirely soaked. The guidebook mentions a couple of small rock hops across creeks, but we were treated to a half a dozen more than that, plus some splendid mini-waterfalls and a couple of creeks that were very challenging. Judy and I had hiking poles but Carol did not, and at one crossing I went part of the way across, and in handing one stick back to Carol I slipped off my rock and into the water. Yes, it is possible to get wetter than wet! Hiking poles are indispensable for keeping balance while crossing water. This photo shows how swollen the creeks were from the rains.

When a tree falls in the forest…well, I don’t know if it makes a sound, but it does make a mess sometimes. Blowdowns are trees that have been blown over by wind, sometimes broken off along the trunk but most often toppled from the roots. You may think that tree roots grow really deep, but they actually spread out very far and nearer the surface. Judy is standing in front of a huge blowdown and you can see the chunk of earth that was ripped out when the tree went over. Over many years the soil will wash away and the bare roots will look like a sculpture.

We wound our way down the mountain and over Goshen Gate Bridge and to the intersection with Little River Trail. From here it was a walk on an old road bed through a section of houses known as the Elkmont cottages that were vacation homes. Some of the cottages are in the process of being restored, but not the ones we passed. These were overgrown and deteriorated, yet the benches in the front yard of one evoked a time when neighbors may have borrowed eggs and cups of sugar.

Judy was camping with us and made a fabulous real meal, angel hair pasta with a sweet and sour sauce, and now I am quite spoiled for camp cooking (by someone else). The rain persisted, darkness fell and we were heading for our tents by 8:30 PM. Carol decided to give up fighting the leaky tent and slept in her car. In the meantime, my side had also begun to drip, so I moved it all to the middle and lay on my damp pillow and snoozed away. Another good day in the mountains.

Check The List

While I am out on the trail this weekend, take a moment to check the donor list to the right. I get periodic updates from my Girl Scout Council on donor names and a running total. If you have made a donation and your name but does not appear on the list, please contact me at sharon@smokyscout.com and I will check it out. If you are making a donation online, please designate "Smoky Scout" or "GSMGSC" in the "in honor of" space. The "outreach" category is for a different purpose than my outdoor program project. How's that for confusing? At least in the Smokies everything is clearly marked! Of course, if your name is not on the list because you have not yet made a donation...well... Thanks, everybody, for your continued good thoughts and cheerleading!