Sunday, March 4, 2012

Water Crossings and Downed Trees--3.3.12

First of many water crossings on this day

This hike was bound to be unique simply because it almost didn't/couldn't happen!  On Friday evening tornadoes and severe thunderstorms tore through the East Tennessee area.  I heard that Wears' Valley had a tornado sighting, and I figured that might be the end of our hike.  The storms did cause the closing of Little River Road, but thankfully, the hike we had planned for Saturday required access via Laurel Creek Road instead.  Saturday morning dawned clear and beautiful, so we piled in the truck and headed to the mountains after checking Twitter to make sure no more roads were closed.

Up, up, and away--on Rich Mountain Trail.
This hike began across the street from the parking area at the entrance to Cades Cove.  We met a park ranger as we were looking for the trail head.  His only words of advice were: "Hope you've got waterproof shoes!  The water crossings ought to be interesting!"  Boy, was he right!  We began by hiking up Rich Mountain Loop to Crooked Arm Ridge Trail.  Less than a quarter of a mile in, we encountered our first Water Crossing of the day--the first of eight!  This one was so deep that there was no way to cross it dry.  Off came the shoes and I was glad I had strapped my Keen sandals to my backpack that day.  I put those on and waded across.  Everyone else went barefoot, but it was really a great beginning to our adventure! 
After drying our feet and putting our boots back on, we began the climb up Crooked Arm Ridge.  This ridge rises at a rate of about 670 feet per mile, but there are enough nice views along the way to provide photo opps (which double as resting opps!) to make it really a very pleasant climb.  Before long we came to our first real breaking spot at the crest of this ridge.  Here we enjoyed absolutely beautiful views of Cades Cove from about 3100 feet above the valley.  It was exquisite!  
Looking down on Cades Cove from Crooked Arm Ridge Trail
Along the route today, we had to maneuver over and under and around several fallen trees.  I guess the winds from the storms the night before were powerful enough to split or dislodge some limbs or tree trunks.  Some of them were very obviously new breaks.  

 After our snack break we resumed climbing just a little further to the intersection with Scott Mountain Trail.  This turned out to be one of my favorite trails I've ever hike in these mountains.  This trail travels mostly along the ridge that acts as the dividing line between the National Park and private property.  I loved walking along that ridge.  It reminded me of the ridge that we hiked on our trip last summer along the Appalachian Trail.  Look to your right...Smoky Mountain.  Look to your left into a valley of quaint homes and pastureland.  Well, one of the homes wasn't so "quaint"!  At one point, I looked up from the path to see a beautiful log home built on the very top of Scott Mountain.  My DREAM home!  It was anything but quaint!

Scott Mountain Trail had many appealing features.  There were quite a few water crossings, although these were small enough to rock hop and I'm not sure many of them are there in dry weather.  It also was home to Campsite #6 which sits right atop the ridge and would be a fantastic place to camp.  I didn't get to go up and check it out because there was a hiker already up there, but that was a beautiful place.  Also along this trail was one of the largest trees I've ever seen in the Smokies.  I don't know what kind it is unless it's a very large Tulip Poplar.  Its branches were so high up in the sky, I couldn't tell exactly what the blossoms that appeared to be breaking out really looked like.  I believe it would have taken all four of my hiking group to reach around it with our fingers touching.  Two of us couldn't even come close.  It was awe-inspiring to say the least.  
Very old Tulip Poplar

Scott Mountain Trail

At the end of Scott Mountain Trail, we stopped to have our lunch and were tempted by a picnic table which apparently belonged to a house which sits at that intersection of Scott Mountain Trail, Schoolhouse Gap Trail and a little gravel road that leads off the mountain down into the valley we'd been looking into for the last mile.  Andrea refused to eat on a picnic table that was personal property, although I bet the owners put it there for hikers to use actually.  Therefore, we propped on some large rocks nearby and ate our peanut butter sandwiches, trail mix, and beef jerky before we made our way down this leg of the hike.  Schoolhouse Gap Trail eventually took us to the juncture of the little, heretofore unmarked trail that leads down into White Oak Sinks where I want us to visit this spring in search of wildflowers.  This is the place Kacey and I went to with a park ranger during one of our early adventures with the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage.  I can't wait to go back now that I've found the trailhead.  After that, we were almost back to our second car that we had left at the trailhead of Schoolhouse Gap Trail.  This stone bridge is what Laurel Creek Road crosses the creek on and it is just one example of some of the architectural elements in this park that I love so much.

Laurel Creek Bridge

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