Saturday, February 19, 2011

John Litton Farm at Bandy Creek

I had an interesting hike today near the Bandy Creek Campground in Big South Fork Park. Went with the Great Smoky Mountain Hiking and Adventure Group for the first time. Turned out to be a group of really nice people who just love being in the outdoors and feel that there's safety in numbers when hiking. This trail was a 5.9 mile loop through the forest with only a slight elevation change. It was rated moderate but I think only because of the two ladders you have to use to climb down two separate areas where the descent is just too steep to do otherwise.

The most interesting part of this hike today was these massive outcroppings of rock! Wish I knew more about geology--I'm sure there is quite a history behind these formations. There were many of these on the first half of the hike. It wasn't raining today, but water from last night's rainfall was making a bit of a waterfall over the rock in this picture as the trail passed under the outcroppings.

About 3 miles in we came across a small but pretty waterfall in the creek that ran alongside much of the trail. It was very pretty, but I must say, the scenery today wasn't as beautiful as the vistas you find in the Smokies.

We took a short break at the farm, ate a quick snack and snapped a few pictures. There was a pretty reflecting pond near the farm buildings and we were looking at that when a young hunting dog came out of the woods--lost and hungry. We fed her much of our food and then decided to lead her out. One of the ladies on the hike decided to take her home and leave her contact information with the ranger station in case someone was looking for her.

I don't know if it was the excitement over the dog or what, but coming up from the farm, we must have taken a wrong turn. We turned a 5.9 mile hike into a 7 mile hike by following a GPS into a dead end trail. We were "temporarily unsure of our exact location on the planet" became the joke of the day. We weren't "unsure" for long, but it gave us something to laugh and talk about.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gear-gathering continues! Gotta love a bargain!

We hit the bonanza today! Bunk and I went to Gander Mountain as a chance for him to get out of the house after surgery. Two days and he's already climbing the walls being cooped up! While wheeling him around in a wheelchair through the hiking section (wishful thinking, I guess), we discovered a display of Jetboil Cooking Systems on sale. The camo-colored ones were $79, but the solid black ones were tagged $59.97. We decided to purchase one since we had decided that IS what we want to use when we backpack. When I got to the checkout line it rang up $44.97!!! A JETBOIL for $45!!! I couldn't believe it! After we got such a great deal on that we went back and purchased two insulated mugs, the only long-handled spoon like we wanted that they had and our ONE luxury item: a coffee press! We are very excited now about our accumulating gear, especially since we are finding at least some of it on sale.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rainbow Falls Trailhead to Grotto Falls in the Snow!

Last Sunday, my husband and I were determined to enjoy the gorgeous nearly 60 degree weather on that late January day. This winter has been brutal, so a rare day of beautiful weather just couldn't be ignored. We headed to the Great Smoky Mountains unsure of where we would end up, except that we knew we wanted to go in Great Outpost after our hike to continue our quest for gear for out AT trip. There is so much we still don't know about what exactly we need to purchase.

Anyway, we were going up to do Abrams Falls, but decided to try to hike closer to Gatlinburg so we could shop at the end of the day. We hadn't hiked in awhile, so we thought we'd just do the little 2.9 mile Grotto Falls trail that we could extend on past the falls for a bit if we were up to it. However, after stopping at the Sugarlands Nature Center, we discovered that the Roaring Forks Nature Trail (which is the access road to the hike) was closed for the winter. A ranger told me we could still do the falls, but it would be a 6 mile hike leaving from the Rainbow Falls Trailhead parking lot. We decided we could do 6 miles in the time we had before Great Outpost would close, so off we went.

Upon arriving at the trailhead and getting our packs on, we headed up the trail about .1 mile until we came to the sign for the Trillium Gap Trail which takes you to Grotto Falls. However, our ranger had misled us slightly: the signpost read 3.7 miles to Grotto Falls which would mean a 7.5 mile hike round trip. We deliberated but finally decided to hike for a time period whether we made the falls or not, allowing us enough time to spend at least an hour at the Outpost. So, off we went, but we hiked at a pretty quick clip! We started off in layers of long sleeves, but quickly shed down to just a single lightweight layer of short sleeves, the weather was so nice. I really liked this trail. It was a nice mixture of ups and downs, creek crossings, and beautiful wooded views. We kept thinking we would see some deer, the landscape was perfect for it, but I guess they heard us coming long before we got to them. As we ascended, the weather began to change slightly with the air cooling considerably. Within a couple miles of the falls, the ground became snow-covered and closer to the falls, there were some treacherous spots where fairly deep snow covered the trail. One creek crossing was more like ice skating, and I was somewhat concerned that the thick ice covering the creek would break under our weight, but it held and we crossed ok. Our hiking sticks were a blessing on this trip due to the unsure footing in the snow and ice.

The falls was absolutely beautiful surrounded with snow drifts and hanging icicles! It was well worth the quick pace and straining of winter-rusty muscles. Bunk and I were pretty proud of pushing ourselves through a 7.5 mile hike in 3 hours and 15 minutes in all kinds of terrain and obstacles. I feel really good about our ability to hike 10 miles or so a day this summer on the AT. Granted, we weren't carrying packs with much weight today, so that will increase the challenge, but with training between now and June/July, I think we will be ready.