Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cade's Cove to Tremont

Our hike yesterday took us from the parking area of the Cade's Cove Picnic Area to Tremont Institute. When my daughter, Kacey, found out that's where we were hiking she said: "Mom, that's a heck of a long way in a car!"  Total mileage on this hike was 9 miles. We began on Anthony Creek Trail for just a little bit then picked up Crib Gap Trail just because it is one that we wouldn't be able to get to any other time. That took us along Laurel River Road down to the intersection with Turkeypen Ridge Trail that we did on our last excursion. This little trail was lined in many places with large rhododendron bushes and we discussed how beautiful this would be in the season when they were in bloom. Andrea had told me to keep an eye out for Blood Root, my favorite wildflower which does make its appearance early in the lower elevations. It was still a little early, but even this short conversation about the blood root made my heart thrill to memories of traversing these woods with Kacey in search of various wildflowers. It won't be long now until those sweet blossoms peak up from the leaf litter on the forest floor to smile up at us.  I can't wait!

At the end of Crib Gap Trail, we began an almost two mile ascent up the western slope of Bote Mountain on Lead Cove Trail. We wondered as we wandered along this trail if it were pronounced lead as in "to lead someone along" or if it were pronounced like the metal. Come to find out, it is named after the lead ore that was once mined here. This trail is a steady ascent of about 1400 ft in 1.8 miles.  This required several stops along the way to let the pounding heartbeat in my ears subside and let my lungs fill up with oxygen again.  We did notice some nice views along the way and some massive tulip poplars beginning to bloom way above our heads.  We were all glad to see the top of Bote Mountain at the small clearing where Lead Cove and Bote Mountain Trails come together.  After kissing the signpost, we stopped for lunch--really just an excuse to let our rubbery legs become a bit more stable before moving on.
Glad to see the top of Lead Cove Trail!

The views at that summit were almost 360 degrees, and I am kicking myself for not remembering that my new iPhone 4S has a video camera in it.  That would have been a nice place to get some video, but I didn't think about it until probably half a mile down the Bote Mountain Trail.  Laura said she'd wait for me if I wanted to go back up and get the video, but I declined her invitation to do that.  The Bote Mountain Trail is wide, but it was terribly rocky.  Loose rocks about 4 or 5 inches or larger in diameter absolutely littered the trail making the descent tricky.  Numerous times I was glad my hiking boots were tall enough to provide significant ankle support.  I was glad to get to the point where we left Bote Mountain Trail and got on the West Prong Trail.  This little trail was narrow, but the leaves that covered it were much nicer that the rocks that characterized the Bote Mountain Trail giving it the attributes that I think of most when I think of hiking in the Smokies.

This beautiful little trail led us down to Backcountry Campsite #18.  I have heard about these campsites for many years, but this is the first one I'd seen.  It was absolutely beautiful!  The Middle Prong of the Little River runs right through it and there are nice areas for four different camping groups to set up camp.  At least two of the campsites had bear bag hanging racks mounted in the trees, which would eliminate one of the major challenges of backcountry camping--keeping the bears from getting your food!  I do wish that the campsites included an outhouse like the shelters along the Appalachian Trail have, because several of us would have benefited from that feature about that time in our hike.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Backcountry Campsite #18

Footbridge at Backcountry Campsite #18

After spending some time exploring the campsite, we crossed the Middle Prong along one of those marvelous log bridges common in the Smokies and began the final leg of our journey.  The trail, still West Prong Trail, maintained its characteristic narrow and switchback nature as it made its way up another ridge.  We passed a couple with their young son about 20 minutes into this last part of our journey.  We told them how beautiful the river was not far below them.  You could tell that mom was less than thrilled to hear that, but her son really needed to make that trek and see it for himself.  The boy's dad seemed excited to be taking him there, and I believe he was glad to get the encouragement.  Sorry lady--I hope you toughed it out for your son's sake.

By this time, over 6 hours into our hike, every fiber in my calves was burning and my shoulders were aching too.  Reaching the Tremont parking lot was a welcome event, but this hike had been enjoyable.  Laura and I had the discussion along the way that this hike (for new miles) was very different from a destination hike, like Mt. Leconte.  Even though Leconte was longer, it was a much more interesting and enjoyable hike.  I seemed to struggle more with this hike than I did the last couple hikes although the distance and terrain was about the same.  I've got to do a better job with between hike training and nutrition.  That's something I have to work on over the coming weeks.

After loading back up into Kirsten's car, we made a quick stop at Tremont Institute's gift shop where Laura got her a map to highlight the trails she's hiked on and Kirsten found me a copy of Day Hiker's Guide to All the Trails in the Smoky Mountains. This is the book we are using to help us decide how to make the most out of our trips in terms of trying to hike the 900.  She bought it for me.  In return, she said just hike with her and if anything bad ever happens to her on a hike, make sure we either get her out or get someone else to get her out!  Not a bad trade either way.
Small falls into the Middle Prong

Middle Prong of the Little River

Once back in our car, before driving back to Knoxville, we decided to drive up the Middle Prong road which runs along an old railroad where a logging community once thrived.  Since Andrea is a history teacher and major geneology buff, we purchased the little guide that goes along with the road tour and she read to us the history of the settlement as we made our way up the gravel road.  It was interesting to get a glimpse of life the way it would have been in the 1930s in these mountains.  Some of the prettiest sites of the day came along that road.  The Middle Prong of the Little River is as pretty as any mountain stream I've ever seen.  I will be returning here with my husband to fish this river this spring.  It looks quite promising.  Also, it leads up to the juncture with Lynn Camp Prong which is currently closed to fishermen.  In this stream there is a concerted effort to rebuild the population of the native Brook Trout.  Someday, I hope Bunk and I will return to Lynn Camp Prong to catch and release a few native brookies!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The GSMNP 900?!? No promises; NEW miles!

Ok, so my little hiking group has a new goal (sort of)!  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has 900 miles of official trails that are now calling our name.  Our hikes have taken on new direction, and new meaning.  Some of us have officially, Andrea and Kirsten, decided they want to try to hike all 900 miles over the coming years.  Because I want to do so many other things too, like Appalachian Trail hiking, bike riding, fly fishing--just to name a few, I haven't chosen to  accept that challenge at this time.
I will probably never do all 900, and that will be ok with me.  However, what I have undertaken as my challenge is to log as many new miles as possible on the hikes that I do in the Smokies now.  Currently, to the best of my ability, I have recreated my hiking adventures since moving back to Tennessee and have hiked 61.8 of the 900 miles of trails right here in my backyard.  I have hiked over a hundred total miles, but much of that was repeat mileage.  For instance, when I hiked to Grotto Falls and back, I covered 7 miles, but only 3.5 of those were new miles.  Same with Mt. Leconte--total of 10 miles, but only 5 new miles.

This past weekend our group did a loop hike that began about a couple miles down the mountain from the entrance to Cades Cove.  We hiked Finley Cane trail to Bote Mountain trail to Schoolhouse Gap trail and then traversed across Turkeypen Ridge, returning to our cars a total of 8.9 miles later.  On this day, we covered 7.8 new miles that none of us had ever hiked before.

Our hike was relaxing and not nearly as steep as climbing Chinquapin Ridge on the Walker Sisters hike a couple weeks earlier.  Our pace was quick though.  With only four hikers on this day, those who usually break out and end up waiting for the rest of us at waypoints along the hike stayed closer.  That challenged the older or less experienced members of the group to walk more briskly than usual to keep from hindering the youngsters.  I was proud of the pace I was able to sustain, but I don't feel like I get to see as much when I walk that quickly. Also, we never stopped to sit down for even a minute, so my conditioning is getting better, something that should serve me well this summer when, hopefully, we do another section of the AT.

This hike was characterized by several water crossings and since we've had a good bit of rain lately, they were challenges in the rock-hopping department.  In fact, the last one (thankfully it was the last or we'd have had wet feet all day) wasn't a rock hop at all.  It was just a wade on tiptoes and hope your boots are tall enough to keep the river out.  Mine were great! Only the top of my sock got wet on one foot, but one of our hikers had on low-cut hiking shoes and she was soaked.  That water was pretty cold too, seeing as we did the hike in January!  She was glad to get back to the car where we found her some dry socks.

One nice surprise on this hike though, due to all the rain, was an unexpected waterfall on the Turkeypen Ridge trail.  I'm not sure that it would be there at all on a day when weather had been dry for a while, so I felt privileged to stand and watch it's somewhat ethereal beauty.  It was quite pretty how it cascaded down the mountain, changing course when it hit a section of large rock outcroppings, veering off into what was almost a cave-like opening available to it as it rerouted around the boulders.

I find myself feeling very fortunate to have the camaraderie of such a wonderful group of ladies to hike with during this transition time in my life.  This is definitely helping to fill the void left by children who are growing up, moved out, and needing me less (or at least in different ways--seems like all they really need me for right now is money! And that's ok, too, for now).  I am sort of remaking myself, similar to the way they are finding their way into their futures.  I, too, feel like I'm finding new paths into mine.  And I'm liking it!