Monday, January 16, 2012

Walker Sisters'Sister's Homeplace to Laurel Falls

Walker Sister's Cabin
The Bucket Brigade strikes again! It was an awesome January day for a hike on this MLK holiday, and I can't think of a better way to spend it than hiking in the mountains. The hike today began at the Metcalf Bottoms parking area and went past the Greenbrier Schoolhouse to the Walker Sisters' Homeplace. These five spinsters lived their entire lives on this land until the last sister passed away in 1964. It is a beautiful setting, but it must have been a hard life! Today we used their front porch as a resting stop before we began climbing Chinquapin Ridge via Little Greenbrier Trail. It was 3.5 miles steady climb to the junction with the Laurel Falls Trail.
The Watsons

Chinquapin Ridge
By the time we reached this junction we were pretty tired and glad to see the trail head down the other side of Chinquapin Ridge! The weather on this side of the ridge was dramatically different from the trip up the ridge. The wind was blowing hard and the trail was all but covered with snow. We ran into two scientists who were mapping the location of the remaining hemlock trees and comparing their map to the aerial mapping that had been done previously. these hemlocks are fighting a losing battle with the wooly adelgid who is literally sucking the life out of some of the park's oldest residents. It's a shame to see their skeletons rising up where once beautiful trees had stood. I guess it's just proof that time changes everything.
Laurel Falls

 After hiking another 1.8 miles, this time downhill, we reached the most visited falls in the park: Laurel Fallls. This falls plummets spectacularly 75 feet from the top, past the viewing crossing and down to the stream that carries the water down to Little River. We stopped here to eat the lunches we had packed, but it began to get pretty cold when we weren't walking. From there it was only another 1.4 miles to the parking area where we had left a car to shuttle us back to Metcalf Bottoms. On the way down though, we did witness the fall of a tree in the woods, and it made me think of the shirt I bought Bunk once, well actually twice, that said: if a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman around to hear, is he still wrong. I couldn't help but chuckle as that went through my head.

One reason I picked this hike at this time of year was to avoid the crowds that usually throng this falls since the path from Little River Road to the falls is paved and can accommodate young children and strollers. On this hike we had not seen anyone except the two scientific researchers until we got to the falls. From there down we saw quite a few. But the crowd on this day was light enough not to interfere with the experience, and I'm really glad I got to see it again. It is a magnificent falls, to say the least.

Altogether, today's hike was right at 8 miles. I had inadvertently left my knee brace at home and didn't discover it missing until we were ready to begin. I was worried, and mentally I began figuring out how I could use the duck tape I keep wrapped around my hiking pole to tape my knee when it began to hurt. I am so very pleased to report that it never did bother me! On the way down, I was careful to place as much impact as possible on the two hiking poles I was using, but the knee held up remarkably well. I feel really good about how strong it is getting!

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