Entries For: October 2009
Starting with 26.6 miles, 2,400 ft. ascent.
We pack up in the dark and start up Bradley Fork at 7:45 A.M. Chasteen Creek Trail is the big climb but now we're just dayhiking. The MST route that the Park proposed follows the Benton MacKaye Trail. It may seem convoluted but from the park standpoint, it makes sense. Since the Benton MacKaye leaves the Smokies at Davenport Gap, the MST has to climb toward Mt. Sterling before it comes down.
We've been promised rain but so far, it rained for about an hour in the middle of the night, enough so we packed up wet tents.
The colors are magnificent and we can't stop taking pictures. Are we fascinated by the scenery or just taking breaks? Lots of small things as well, like this fungus.
We only meet two small groups coming down from the campsite on Chasteen Creek Trail, a campsite with no flat spot. This is not exactly a well-traveled area of the park. You really have to want to be here - and we do.
On Enloe Creek Trail, we follow the Creek for a good long while. It's a picture-perfect postcard creek but mostly we're happy we're going down. We cross Enloe and there's even a bridge - see above.
Then the water flows the other way and we realize we're now following Raven Fork - bigger and more powerful. It will require a bigger bridge.
Campsite #47 on Enloe Creek Trail is pitiful. It's small and slammed against the rocks. There's no room for proper bear cables and you have to cross the bridge each time you want water.
I stayed there when I was doing the Smokies 900 and I'm glad we're not staying there again. The Park improved the trail and put gravel on the bridge to make it less slippery, probably less slippery for horses.
Then up Hyatt Ridge where we pick up Beech Gap Trail II and down, down, down. The sky opens up and we get the rain we've been promised since yesterday. We reach Straight Fork Road and see a line of MGs coming around. They must have driven the one-way Balsam Mountain Rd.
Sharon heads home; she has two Girl Scout meetings tomorrow. I stay in Cherokee because I have an Elk Bugle Corps meeting in Cataloochee tomorrow. That's the problem with section hiking. You have to go back to your other life right away.
Section hiking is not easy.
The day was 13.8 miles, 3,900 ft. up
Cumulative after Day 3 - 40.4 miles, 6,300 ft. ascent
Starting with 13.4 miles
Thursday morning was cold and dark. I've not done a backpack trip this late in the year. We take down our tent in the dark, have breakfast in the dark and pack up as it gets lighter.
The MST route now follows the Benton MacKaye Trail route. Benton MacKaye was the visionary who thought up the Appalachian Trail. He thought that people would naturally gravitate to a trail high in the mountains, punctuated by small communities where they would rest and then move on. Well, it didn't quite work out that way; the A.T. has three-sided shelters, but that's the extent of respite on the trail itself. MacKaye wrote about this vision but he didn't implement much. That was left to Myron Avery who actually designed the route of the A.T., built up volunteer clubs and became the head of the A.T.C.
I'm serenading Sharon about this history as we climb up Martin's Gap. I can feel my left side, hips, thigh and knee and try to adjust my pack. I try not to let on and wait for her at the Sunkota Trail - more up. We crunch leaves and won't be able to hear or see much with all the noise we're making. Still we head a piliated woodpecker and see a hawk, scared a grouse and saw turkeys. Turkeys aren't afraid of anything.
Down the Newton Bald Trail and instead of taking the Mingus Creek Trail, where the current MST goes, we stay on Newton Bald Trail. Two roads diverging. I don't know about the less traveled part. We're walking the proposed route through the Smokies. It was proposed by the Park management, as a way to avoid the long road walk on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It won't become official for years but this makes more sense than walking on a road and going through five tunnels. The longer we can stay in the Park, the happier I'll be.
We reach Smokemont Campgrounds where we spend a luxurious night. My definiition of luxurious is getting water out of a tap and not having to treat it. But first we have to get Sharon's car from Clingman's Dome and then place mine at Straight Fork for tomorrow.
We drive through the Big Cove Community in Cherokee ande pass the educational campus, a beautiful set of buildings with Cherokee designs. All the children from Kindergarten to Seniors are on the same campus. They feel that younger children will learn from older ones. Two young bull graze on the grass in front of the educational complex.
Big Cove road is mostly commercial campgrounds till the community center. When we turn right, that’s the end of Cherokee and we’re in the park. It’s isolated.
Dinner at Big Boys. The day was 13.2 miles, 2,400 ft. up
Cumulative after Day 2 - 26.6 miles, 2,400 ft. ascent
My world is falling apart, literally.
First there was a potential slide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. So they closed from milespot 393.6 to 405.5 in the Asheville Area.
Then last Sunday, there was a real slide on I-40 at milepost 3. On the North Carolina side, I-40 is open only to Exit 20. So you can get into Cataloochee. But after that, you either go through the park or around Hot Springs.
Then just now, I learned that there was a landslide on Little River Rd. in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The road is closed between Elkmont and Metcalf Bottom Picnic Area.
No pictures, just a lament.
Last week, Sharon (Smoky Scout) and I started walking the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The MST is a 1,000 mile trail through North Carolina. It starts at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, goes up to the Virginia border and eventually out to Jockey's Ridge State Park. It's a long way but we're doing it in sections. Much of the trail is not finished and is on roads. It will not be finished in our lifetime, so there's no point waiting for it to be finished. We're doing it.
We couldn't have picked a better day as we dropped a car at Smokemont and drove to Clingmans Dome, shown above. The sun was out and the air was clear. Lots of picture taking but then we had to start walking on the A.T. for a couple of miles.
I hadn't backpacked in over a year and I was concerned about how I would do. Not so much the walking since I'm a real plodder - walk up and down until I get there - but the management and organization of backpacking. I did fine though I was quite tired after the first day.
There was snow on the ground as we climbed up Mt. Collins on the A.T. Finally, we reached Clingmans Dome Road, crossed it and started down on Fork Ridge Trail. Down - that was the word I liked. Just because the trail goes from the mountains to the sea does not mean that it's all downhill. But right now it was.
We met two groups doing the MST, including a father and two sons team that get together every year for a family backpack.
After 5 miles, we reached Deep Creek. The guys stopped at the first campsite on Deep Creek because they were doing the Smokies MST section in two nights but we plunged on. Literally.
Crossing Deep Creek, Sharon took off her boots and put on her Crocks.
Is that how you spell it? I don't even know how to spell it; I'm certainly not going to walk in them. I plunged right in the water with my boots on. I like to protect my feet.
Yes, my boots were wet the rest of the trip, but that was OK.
Deep Creek Trail was deep in the valley. We had to cross several side streams as well. Finally we reached our destination, campsite #57, Horace Kephart's last campsite.
Horace Kephart moved to Bryson City and the "back of beyond" in the early 1900s; he was a great advocate of making the Smokies a national park.
Campsite #57 is a horse camp but we were the only ones there.
It was a cold night for me. I put on everything I owned and crawled into my sleeping bag and new liner and I was still cold. I've never backpacked so late in the season and I'm not fond of the dark so early in the evening.
We took a short walk to the Kephart Millstone. This was put up by the Boy Scouts months after Kephart died in 1931 in a car accident, supposedly going to his bootlegger.
So to wrap up day 1 - 13.4 miles, up and down but mostly down.
The elk are slowing down but not the visitors.
The big bulls are no longer the dominant feature in the Cataloochee Valley, so the younger elk feel more secure about roaming around.
On Tuesday, the one-way road going to the Caldwell House and to the end of the valley was jammed and all the volunteers were doing traffic control.
I came back from my usual walk to the Woody House and I walked with heaps of folks.
These guys to the left were taking an awful long time getting ready for their backpack. Stuff was coming out of their car, out of their backpacks, back into their backpacks but they were so happy to be in the park. Finally, they got started.
Tish and Fran, fellow hikers, visited the Valley. Fran, from Rhode Island, got a good taste of the Smokies.
But this was all fun until we tried to get back. Huge monster trucks created a major traffic jam. These visitors just don't realize that they're on a primitive one-way road.
According to the ranger in Cataloochee, there would be physical altercations between drivers if the Bugle Corps was not there.
Finally, I was able to get out and parked at the Chapel. I stopped everyone coming in and suggested that they park before the bridge and walk to the elk. They will have a better time. I don't know how many took my suggestion and how many just turned around.
I am late posting this EBC story because I went on a Smokies backpack on Wednesday for several days. When I came back, I found out that Tom Mangan had given my blog high praise.
I am honored, but also amused. His link to my blog was of the bull and cow . I knew that sex gets attention.
Panthertown in Nantahala National Forest, north east of Cashiers, is not easy to get around. For years, there was only one map, hand drawn by Burt Kornegay. Now more people might be attracted to the area because a new Forest Service map is available.
Fall is an outstanding time to come and the Carolina Mountain Club offers a hike in Panthertown every October. The top photo is from Salt Rock, only 0.3 mile from the trailhead.
Schoolhouse Falls is the most popular falls. You can walk behind the falls and stay (mostly) dry.
Wilderness Falls was new to me. It's off a narrow trail and a short steep down to the falls. After you scramble down, you're not facing the falls head on, so it doesn't make a calendar-ready photo.
Panthertown has two mountains - Little Green and Big Green. Both are worth exploring. From Little Green shown above, you can see Big Green.
Get out there! This is the peak colors.
I've been so busy hiking and writing my second book Hiking North Carolina's Blue Ridge Heritage that I haven't had a chance to go back to some of my favorites from my first book, Hiking the Carolina Mountains. But an assignment from Mountain Xpress got me back yesterday.
Dupont has such a long, complicated history, all spelled out in my first book.
Dupont was owned by the Dupont Company for over 30 years, making medical films. When the company left, it sold most of the land to the state, but not all. The rest went to another company, who sold it to a third who sold it to the highest bidder, a developer.
Then the North Carolina public woke up and howled. Mike Easley, then Attorney General, ended up buying it for the state by eminent domain. You can also read all about it on the web on the Friends of Dupont site.
The falls just above here is of High Falls, that would have been part of the housing development.
Waterfalls are the big attractions because they are magnificent and close to the road. Getting to Hooker Falls, High Falls and Triple Falls, shown above, doesn't require much walking. Wintergreen and Grassy Creek are a little further away.
But a little further are several lakes. Lake Julia on top is the largest lake. Close by are Lake Dense, shown to the left, and a tiny Lake Alf (below). All these lakes are artificial, built by the Dupont Company when this property was used as an executive retreat.
But the surprise is how well maintained and comfortable the whole forest is. Each lake, and there are more, has a picnic shelter and a viewing platform, courtesy of the work by students at Western Piedmont Community College. They also built a marvelous wooden staircase down to High Falls.
This is a great place to take visitors who are willing to walk a few miles or many easy miles.
I hope that by now, you've visited the Cataloochee Valley this fall. The colors are at their peak. On my way to the Ranger Station, I stopped to take a couple of pictures from the lookout. The view was stunning. I've been very lucky in that the weather has been great on my shift days - it's a miserably wet day today.
We now have three shifts on the Elk Bugle Corp and my shift (the middle one) is 11:30 to 3:30 P.M. I wolfed down some yogurt and a piece of bread and reported to the World Headquarters before 11:30. I had already had my first visitor contact in the Campground bathroom.
"Going to work?" asks a woman as she saw me put on my uniform shirt. I always hesitate. "Yes," I said "but I'm a volunteer". Having punched a clock for 35 years, I like to make a distinction between paid work and volunteering. But I shouldn't be so humble. The other EBC volunteers call it going to work.
On the way to the Rough Fork trailhead, I saw a family taking pictures of one of theirs playing the bag pipe.
What is it about a bag pipe that makes a piper want to play it everyplace in an outdoor setting? I first saw that at MacKensie Pass on the Milford Track. There, the piper had carried it for two days and up a mountain.
Toward the end of the shift, I met my friends Linda and Mary from Asheville. Linda, a fellow member of the Carolina Mountain Club, had never been to Cataloochee - I wondered if she'd ever been in the Smokies. But I told her what I was doing and she and her friend finally came.
They were amazed at the front row "seat" they were getting for elk watching. They had parked on the side of the road along with several other groups and were just watching Elk #67 quietly grazing, yet controlling his herd. It seems that he had lost some of his cows because in another field east of the Chapel, Elk #16 also had several cows.
It was the end of my shift but I wasn't leaving these visitors alone with elk so close to the road. Two people on horseback came out of the woods near the school and rode in the field but the elk were OK with that. Horses are not predators and the elk can sense that. This was a very visual explanation as to why horses are allowed on the trails and dogs are not. Dogs change the dynamics of the wilderness because they're carnivores but horses don't - they're herbivores.
I was literally directing traffic. The road here is almost one lane and certainly not made for trucks and SUV that seem to populate the valley. So cars had to back up and swing around.
Finally elk #67 and his group walked back into the forest and I felt I could leave. The next shift had come on.
The Friends of the Smokies is asking everyone to help them win a "Tourism Cares" grant, by participating in an online vote. This grant could mean $5,000 to $10,000 for historic preservation and restoration of 19 historic buildings in the Elkmont area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Please click here for more information.
Just off River Road behind Elkmont Campground in the Smokies, there's a whole town of houses that are now abandoned. Originally, these houses were vacation homes for the well-to-do in Knoxville. From 1910 till about the 1960s, families came to Elkmont for the summer. The last house was vacated in 2001.
Now the NPS has committed to refurbishing some houses so visitors can see what that part of the Smokies history was like. The park service has made the decision but getting the money is another challenge. You can read the whole park EIS
This is where you come in. This grant is given out by Tourism Cares, a non-profit arm of the tourist industry. This amount of money is peanuts, compared to what is needed to fix up these houses, but it's better than nothing and it will give some publicity to the historic artifacts in the Smokies. It's a shame that we have to get money like this rather than from our Federal Government.
Yesterday Lenny and I did 20 miles in the Smokies so he could get 2.2 new miles for his Smokies 900 mile challenge. He needed the top end of Hughes Ridge from Bradley Fork to the A.T. He almost got those 2.2 miles last week but he turned around when it started thundering.
So he decided that going up and down Bradley Fork Trail was too steep. Instead he enlisted my help and we started from Newfound Gap and walked about 10 miles on the A.T. to Hughes Ridge. Ten miles, that's about the length of a hike and we reached that at 2:30 P.M. But of course, that was only half the hike. We then needed to go down Bradley Fork Trail.
How steep was it? Well, we met a horse rider coming up who wasn't riding his horse. He said that it was so difficult that he needed to give his horse a break.
The Smokies were decked out in their best fall colors. It was a little past its prime at the top on the A.T. because we were above 5,000 ft. with fog and wind.
As we came down, we were enveloped in a whirlwind of gold, brown and some green. Then we passed the reds of the sourwood trees. Normally, sourwood is not a very showy tree but now this is their moment. They are pure reds.
We reached Smokemont at 6:30 P.M. and then had to go back up to get Lenny's car at Newfound Gap. We then fell in to the Big Boy in Cherokee, the best place in town. I was exhausted.
I'll be at REI in Arden this afternoon at 2 P.M. Come on by.
Here's the picture you've been waiting to see. Now I'm not sure if anyone will read past this.
I arrived today in Cataloochee Valley to find a row of empty cars opposite the Palmer Chapel and no one in sight. I jumped out of my car and saw over twenty visitors in the woods within kissing distance of elk #67 and his cows. I walked through the poison ivy and told everyone to get back to the road. "The elk could charge at any time." And they did! Oh the power of a uniform.
We all watched as elk #67, still the dominant bull in the valley, strut across the road and settle on the Palmer Chapel lawn. A couple of people wanted to see the Chapel and had to wait. The male on one side of the road and his females on the other is not a stable situation. It was only a matter of time until all the elk were all going to be on the same side.
I drove down to the end of the valley and did my usual walk to the Woody House and beyond. A park employee on a mower passed me by. Did you ever wonder how the lawn in front of the Woody House stays so nice? Park employees mow it and even weed eat it. Otherwise, the vegetation would just envelop the house. Lots of visitors walked today, including a couple from Windsor, outside of London. And a couple walking their dog - I told them that dogs were not allowed on the trail and they were genuinely surprised. The Park has to make these signs bigger.
Coming back, I stopped at the Caldwell House and met two couples with three dogs between them. Somehow, they felt that they could take their dogs everywhere. I wasn't sure if I could tell them to put their dogs back in the car but I certainly did not let them bring their dogs in the house and possibly soil the floors.
When I came back to the field after the Palmer House, I found the action. Elk #67 was on the right side with his harem. Elk #21, shown above, was bugling pitifully. There were three other young males, eating quietly. Cars were lined on both sides of the road with people watching intently. I walked up to each car in turn and said Hi and explained a little of what was going on.
Elk #21 had a bum front right leg and limping. I think he was in a fight with #67 and obviously lost. As I headed back to my car, elk #67 mounted a cow - in case you're thinking about the expression "getting it on". I wonder how all those parents explained this behavior to their children.
I was wondering about the evolutionary advantage of elk harems. Isn't nature supposed to spread its DNA around? Joe Y., the Smokies wildlife biologist, explained it this way. "The dominant male is supposed to be the perfect male. Besides any one elk only stays dominant for two to three years. Then another one pops up."
Joe said that Elk #67 was six years old. The one he beat out, elk #16, was ten - past his prime.
Everywhere I go I find hiking, even in Ohio. So today on a perfect autumn day, my granddaughter (age 6) and I went to Hocking Hills State Park, about 30 miles west of Athens.
As my son says, it's a high thrill, no exertion place. The park consists of several natural areas - the most famous is Old Man's Cave. It derives its name from a hermit who supposedly lived in the large recess cave in the 1790s. The sandstone cave is carved by Old Man's Creek. It's a short walk to see all the features, including several falls and the Sphinx Head. You could give a name to every stone formation. In a couple of miles (or less), you can climb up and down steps, cross bridges and even walk through several stone tunnels. The sandstone overhangs and formations are the attractions. There were lots of families, which encourages other kids to walk.
This area must be in a drought because the falls looked pretty anemic. Above is a picture of Upper Falls.
The Grandma Gatewood Trail connects three sections of the park - Old Man's Cave, Cedar Falls (another almost dry falls) and Ash Cave, in six miles. But since it's not a loop, we decided to drive to each of these attractions. The area has finally decided to honor Emma "Grandma" Gatewood with a trail, though a short one. She came from this area and is famous for being the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and the first person to hike it three times.
I go home tomorrow and back to Cataloochee on Tuesday. I wonder which elk is dominant now.