Entries For: September 2008
If you're not impressed with the picture of Rugel's Ragwort, I don't blame you. This plant (Rugelia nudicaulis) is a rare plant and may only be seen in the high altitude sections of the Smokies. If it wasn't so rare, no one would pay attention to it. Though deemed rare in the flower books, there were plenty of them on the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail this past weekend. We passed hundreds of them - most of them way past their bloom time.
We backpacked into Big Creek (#37) and did two long loops from there. The second day, we went up the ridge on Swallow Fork Trail, a good horse trail. Thank goodness for horses; their owners keep the trails well-maintained, sometimes by actually helping to clear them, most times by just putting pressure on the park.
We then continued on the Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail away from the tower. Most of it was flat , like walking through a grassy field at 5,500 ft. That's where we saw most of the ragworts. After a short section on Balsam Mountain Trail, we came down Gunther Fork Trail. You could tell that it was not a horse trail from the start. Lots of slanted rocks, dips and roots that horses could not handle.
We had seen signs all around the area about Gunther Falls which said that in times of high water, the falls are impassable. Even though it had rained for two days, I didn't think that this was one of those times and I was right. The falls were just a trickle of their real selves. But we could see that in the spring, we could not and would not cross it. An almost perpendicular rock could carry water with tremendous force which would take everything, including hikers, down with it. I was so glad that I did it now in the drought.
On Saturday evening, it rained again. Everything, down to tea bags individually wrapped, was wet. I discovered that my tent leaked. Maybe I need to seal the seams again. Tish and I walked out on Sunday, soaked and smiling.
19.7 miles in 8 hours and 40 minutes? Is that all I remember from my latest Smokies miles?
I drove to Smokemont campground on Tuesday. It may have been the gas shortage or just the price of gas but the campground was almost empty. I stopped at the camp office to let the ranger know what I was doing: Bradley Fork to Hughes Ridge Trail to the A.T., down Hughes Ridge, to Chasteen Creek and back on Bradley Fork Trail.
It was a steamy day, the water level was low but Bradley Fork Trail was a good switchbacked road so it was an easy climb. Fall had definitely arrived at the higher elevation; hobble bush, as shown in the photo, had turned red and blue and white asters were in bloom.
When I first planned this trip, I wondered if I should backpack it. Maybe I should stay at Peck Shelter but I got to the shelter at one o'clock so I'm glad I decided to do this as a dayhike. I thought I would roll downhill when coming down the A.T. I conveniently forgot about the small ups and downs but to my amazement, I got to the car before six o'clock.
I checked out with the rangers - if you're going to let them know where you're going, you should let them know that you're back - and drove through the park into Gatlinburg. Life doesn't get any better than driving on Newfound Gap Rd. after a long, satisfying hike and listening to country music. Tourists, many on motorcycles, stopped to photograph the mountain views. It was so good to see people enjoying the Smokies for the first time and so important for me not to become blaze about the mountain views.
The next day, I went on the Foothills Parkway to do a very remote few miles on the Cane Creek Trail. I was not looking forward to finding the entrance to Goldmine Trail but a trail angel in the form of the camp host told me exactly how to get there. That saved me several miles of extra walking. Cane Creek Trail takes you to the park boundary and a big "private property" sign. Interestingly, this is the only place in the two days where I saw a fellow hiker. He was going out as I was coming in and probably lived locally.
By the way, there is no sign for the Abrams Falls campground on the Foothills Parkway. You have to go to Lookout Rock campground, make a right, a left and down, down down.
Questions, comments, email me
Trails do not maintain themselves; people maintain hiking trails. So every once in a while, I have to take myself out of hiking mode and do some trail maintenance.
Lenny and I have adopted 4.9 miles of the A.T. from the 92 miles that the Carolina Mountain Club takes care of. The distance is trivial, if you hike it but if you're trying to maintain it, it is considered a long section.
Our section is not a "top of the pops" location - it goes from Rice Gap to Devils Fork Gap in Madison County, NC and Unicoi County, TN. Its main distinction is that here, the A.T. goes compass south while it goes trail north. It also has a two-grave cemetery. A quiet section, very typical of the A.T., in general.
At least four times a year, we take two cars and place them on either end of our section. Then armed with clippers, loppers, hand saw, and garbage bags, we walk the trail. We clip overhanging branches and vegetation too close to the trail and clear the trail of blowdowns and random logs. We also pick up garbage and take apart fire rings.
The last two jobs rankle me. Branches and blueberry bushes are part of nature, part of the job but picking up cans and pie plates should not be. Also, there should not be any campfires on the trail itself. So we dismantle and disperse the stones. What a waste of effort but we do it.
Each time we go, we're bound to see several hikers. We introduce ourselves as "your happy trail maintainers" and they're so happy to see us. That's our immediate reward!
So if you can hike a trail, thank a trail maintainer.
Shooting a book cover for my new hiking guide.
How do editors decide on book covers?
After I handed in my manuscript for Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage and hundreds of pictures, I left for three months in Europe. Jim and Mary Ellen of Milestone Press looked through all those photos on the off-chance one could be a candidate for a book cover.
They liked one of Lenny on the A.T. going toward Big Bald. The mountains were scenic, the clouds were right but he was facing away from the camera; he was looking at the scenery. So they felt that wasn't quite right.
So we scheduled a photo shoot. My job was to get several good-looking, active hikers to spend a day on the trail, getting shot at. Jim's instructions were very clear. They have to wear bright shirts and bright hats and be dressed like hikers. I also brought several red and bright blue shirts for the guys and women, just in case the colors weren't quite right. And of course, I brought the chocolate. I guess that made me the producer or the production assistant.
Mary Ellen is a photographer as well as an editor and she was the director. Jim and Mary Ellen liked the hike into Big Bald and wanted the open views just south of Street Gap. We hiked from Sams Gap toward an open field, over two miles. Once we got to the right spot, our models, Tish, Janet, Jay and Jim, started walking toward the camera under Mary Ellen's direction. They were great!
Walking uphill is better than downhill. The models should be coming from the right .... All these guidelines that must be taught someplace in book cover class has me looking at guidebook book covers in a totally different way.
And the result? Mary Ellen and Jim will be looking at the hundreds of photos that were taken. Hopefully, one will fit the bill and you'll see it when the book comes out.
Hiking in the Smokies
I'm back from three months in Europe. We hiked a great deal and it was all very different from the Southern Appalachians. But I realized how much I missed the Smokies when I went on a long hike yesterday. It's part of my attempt to finish the Smokies 900, all the trails in the Smokies. I'm getting there, I have about 125 miles to go.
Janet and I drove through Bryson City and on the Road to Nowhere - for the history, see Hiking the Carolina Mountains and the Shuckstack-Lakeshore Loop. The purpose was to hike Bear Creek Trail - 5.9 miles one way. But first we had to get to that trail. We walked through the tunnel, started on Lakeshore Trail and then a short distance on Forney Creek Trail. The Creek was running but the water level was low; you could really see the effect of our long-standing drought.
Finally after almost four miles, we started climbing Bear Creek Trail. We were walking the railroad grade up for 3,000 ft., a typical Smokies trail. Up and and down for 18.3 miles on a beautiful late-summer day.
We saw no one on the trail - nobody. In this most visited park in the nation, the trail was empty. We expected to see some folks hiking in for the weekend at campsite #74, less than four miles, but no one. When we got back to the car at 6:30 P.M., there were several cars on the road and one in the parking area. However, when we passed Swain County High School, there were heaps of cars in the parking lot.