Wednesday, May 2, 2012

You mean we gotta cross THAT???

Abram's Creek Crossing--unexpected turn in the path!

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, my husband and I decided last minute to go do a quick hike--maybe 7 miles or so that we'd never done before.  We set out for the Abram's Creek Campground area because neither of us had ever hiked in that area and there was a little loop that looked to be a little over 7 miles.  We figured we could do this easily even though we got a late start since we hadn't even planned to hike on Sunday.

We left our car at the Abram's Creek Ranger Station parking lot, headed up Rabbit Creek Trail looking forward to a nice Sunday afternoon walk in the park!  We had absolutely no idea what lay in store for us on this clear, sunny Sunday.

It didn't take us long going up Rabbit Creek Trail to see the devastation that the tornadoes last spring had wreaked on this area.  I've never seen so many trees down in my entire life.  It seriously looked like a tree graveyard.  In fact it reminded me in places of what we called the "Boneyard" during our visits to Ossabaw Island, GA, a strictly controlled-access island off the coast of Savannah where old Live Oaks had been overtaken by the encroaching sea and left to stand on the deteriorating beach as nothing but skeletons of the majestic trees they once were.

Storm Damage on Rabbit Creek Trail
Tornado devastation
These trees, however, were lying askew down the slopes--hundreds of old evergreens and deciduous trees as well.  Mother Nature hadn't been picky.  If they were tall, they were fair game.  In fact, the lack of tree cover made this hike a steamy one.  We hit our water pretty hard as we made our way up those slopes in the glaring sun.  I made the decision right then and there that I will not do another spring or summer hike of any significant distance without my MSR Miniworks water pump/filter tucked neatly in my backpack.  It's just too easy to carry and use, not to have it with me when I need it.  There were lots of places along the way I could have pumped more water, but it's hard to do that if you didn't bring the pump! 

Pink Lady's Slippers on Rabbit Creek Trail
Although the sight of all these majestic trees downed was a bit depressing, there were some nice surprises along the way.  I was not expecting to find several different clumps of Pink Lady's Slippers growing right at the edge of the trail.  In fact, I saw more of these rare beauties on this hike than I've ever seen on any hike in the Smokies.  My husband had never seen one, so I got to share this exquisitely delicate flower with him, although, I'm not sure he was as impressed by them as I am--go figure!  Let me say this, in case you get tempted to go and dig some of these beauties up and take them home with you.  Not only is that illegal in a National Park, it is also a death sentence for the flowers.  These orchid-like flowers live in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil in the few areas where they can still be found.  If you dig up the flower, there is no way you can get enough of the fungus to transplant with them to sustain the bulbs in the ground.  They WILL die, so please just look at them, appreciate them, take pictures of them, and leave them alone.

Rabbit Creek Trail is not my favorite trail, in fact, I probably won't repeat that one again for a very long time.  I would be interested to see, though, how the area will have rebounded in 15-20 years.  I know the forest will repair itself, but it's hard to imagine it after seeing it this weekend.

Once we turned onto the Hannah Mountain Trail, though, the terrain changed and the scenery improved.  Once again, we were under the lush cover of trees and the temperatures cooled significantly.  This single-file footpath is more like what I expect when I go hiking in the Smokies.  Several small water crossings caused no inconvenience and the walk was pleasant.  It did, however, make you think of bear habitat.  At one point, we were talking loudly to let any nearby bear be aware of our approach and sure enough, we heard a bear startle and move off through the underbrush.  We never saw him, but I don't think it could have been a deer.  About a quarter of a mile up the trail from that point, we saw what I feel might be a bear den.  Some animal of pretty good size was definitely using it on a regular basis.  The trail to the cave-like area was beaten bare and worn smooth in places.  I didn't get any closer than this picture I took with my iPhone camera because I didn't want the Goldilocks story to play out for real.

Could this be a bear den?

At the end of Hannah Mountain Trail, I knew that the next trail, Little Bottoms, was supposed to run alongside Abram's Creek for the duration of our hike.  However, due to the fact that we were in a hurry to leave since we just up and decided to hike that day, I hadn't taken the time I usually take to research our route.  I expected to maybe just have a typical water crossing like many other hikes I've been on before.  Well, let me just say, such was NOT the case!  When we rounded the last bend as Hannah Mountain Trail approaches Abram's Creek, I was shocked at the expanse of water that stretched out before us.  Far on the other side was the rest of the trail.  However, there was NO footbridge here.  Simply water, and LOTS of it!

Abram's Creek Crossing on Hannah Mountain Trail

It's hard to tell from this picture, but in those dark areas, the water was deep, you could tell that much from the bank.  The question was HOW DEEP?  I had lost one of my Keen sandals that I carry just in case I run into a water crossing too deep for my hiking boots, so I knew my feet would be wet the rest of the trip.  We looked upstream and downstream of this spot and found no better location to cross--water in those areas was moving entirely to fast.  We did, however, startle up a family of four river otters who were playing right here just above where we ended up crossing.  It was fascinating to watch as they made their way upstream; the trout were literally jumping out of the water to get out of their way.  If it weren't for the encounter with another creature a little further on down the trail, I would say I'd like to bring my fly-fishing equipment back with me to this spot.  But, no, I don't think I'll be doing that!

After taking our lunch break staring into this water and trying to plan the best route to take in attempting to cross it, we finally decided to prepare to swim in those darkest areas.  It looked very deep and the water was moving pretty swiftly.  I must say, I was just a little scared about trying this.  We never did really have to swim, although I had wrapped my cellphone in everything plastic I had in my pack.  At two different points, I did have to go down on my hands and knees though to crawl over a submerged boulder because I couldn't see or feel bottom around it with my hiking sticks.  Had those boulders not been there, we would have been swimming.

Yes!  I did it!

Finally, after carefully maneuvering our way across, wet from the waist down, and thankful for good traction on Keen hiking boots, we emerged on the other side, really pretty proud of ourselves and feeling good that we had not turned around and gone back like we considered doing.  It's times like this one is thankful for the new fabrics that dry SO quickly.  I learned something else on that day too.  I don't think I'll carry hiking sandals for water crossings in the summer anymore.  My Keen boots and socks were still very comfortable even though saturated with water for the rest of the trip.  I never developed any issues as a result of that.  In fact, I cooled my feet intentionally in water a couple more times as we made our way down Little Bottoms Trail toward the parking area.

One more incident worth telling about happened as we had climbed away from the river again, back up into the scorching sun of tornado ravaged terrain.  We were tired by now and the adrenaline rush from having crossed the river was wearing down into fatigue.  I was in front, and suddenly I heard my husband behind me say, "Keep walking!"  Not sure what that meant, I turned to look at him.  Now, we've been married for almost 25 years, and I've never seen my husband as shaken as he was at that moment.  We've encountered a black bear at point blank range on the AT before, and that was scary, but I've never seen him shaking literally all over, but that's what was happening at that instant.  After putting a little more distance between us and whatever it was he was afraid of, we looked back to see a timber rattler crossing the trail where we had just been--a HUGE timber rattler!  That snake was probably 6 feet long and seemed to be as big around as my wrist.  I had not seen him when I must have passed within just a couple feet of him, but he began "rattling" after I passed him, just as my husband came alongside him.  My husband had followed the rattles to the head of the snake which was only a couple of feet from where he stood at the instant he told me to "Keep Walking!"  Needless to say, I didn't stick around to get his picture!

After we had walked another couple hundred yards and were just beginning to gather ourselves back together, my husband said, "there's a pack of wolves!"  I couldn't believe this and thought he must just be hallucinating or something.  No way could we have stumbled across a bear, river otters, a timber rattler, and a pack of wolves all on the same hike!  He was still shaking and had trouble getting the pistol out of his pocket (we always go armed with a small handgun, more for protection from some two-legged creature than any animal we might encounter in the woods).  I'm not sure he could have cocked it though, he was still so shaken by the snake encounter.  Soon, I too, saw a canine coming up out of the creek.  When I looked more closely though, I told him, laughingly, that it was a black lab!  In his state of heightened defenses after our timber rattler, he just assumed the worst since we hadn't seen people in miles.  However, here, back down now level with the creek a couple was innocently letting their dogs play in the water.  Later, at home safely in bed that night, we laughed until we cried about our "pack of wolves."

I must say, though, that one of my favorite sights on this particular hike was that of my red Mustang convertible sitting in the parking lot when we finally made our way, stressed, hot, thirsty, and out of water,  back to our starting point. 

Finally back to the car after quite a hike!

No comments:

Post a Comment