Saturday, July 7, 2012

Flaming Glory on Gregory's Bald

It's been a couple of weeks now, but the awe-inspiring view that opened up before me as I made my first steps out of the woods onto the plateau of Gregory's Bald will be forever burned in my memory. It was one of those moments when your breath is literally taken by the extravagant beauty of the natural world--a moment in which one wonders how anyone can refuse to believe in a divine, and divinely imaginative, Creator. I was struck first by the expansiveness of the view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. These views were almost 360 degrees and came close to rivaling those that are to be had when you stand on the precipice of Cliff Tops at Mount LeConte. Then I was mesmerized by the sheer quantity and variety of flame azaleas growing there. I read somewhere during my preparations for this hike that these azaleas are hybridizing naturally up here on this bald, and I certainly believe it now. There were more varieties than I could keep track of other than to simply enjoy them.

My hiking partners and I had entered Cade's Cove literally at daybreak and made the drive to the far end of the Cades Cove Loop Road to access Parson's Branch Road to leave one vehicle at the trailhead for Gregory's Ridge Trail. From there we continued down Parson's Branch Road to the trailhead for the Gregory's Bald Trail. Be warned, this road is not for vehicles with low clearance, as not only is it gravel, but it is not well maintained and is pocked with potholes and erosion ditches. The weather had been dry, so we didn't need four wheel drive, but that would have been a possibiity if it had been a rainy part of the year. On that part of the drive we were blessed to see a black bear foraging in the early morning light beginning his day as well, so we had a feeling this was going to be a great hike.

Backcountry Campsite #13
Gregory's Bald Trail was a really nice ascent--not too steep and with several places along the way to stop and rest. It is a horse trail as well, so that meant that there are places where the trail itself has been damaged by the hooves, but I don't mind sharing these trails with horses. I do wish it were a requirement for them to wear bags to catch their poop, but I can certainly see the allure of riding horseback along these ridges in this great park. At just a short distance from the top, Backcountry Campsite #13 is nestled in the woods near a small stream. This would be a wonderful place to camp since it is close enough to the top where you could go to the bald to see sunset or lay under the stars for a while or get up early to view the sunrise. I may have to get my husband to return with me to camp up there one night. It would certainly be a beautiful spot.

 Because we had gotten such an early start, we were rewarded with having Gregory's Bald, in all it's splendor, all to ourselves. You forget how quiet and peaceful the world can be if you can just get away from all the people. This magical place will remind you. When we arrived at the top and were blown away by the views and the magnificent beauty, my hiking partners sat to eat their lunch, but I walked across the bald taking pictures and simply reveling in the serenity of this place. I did have cell service up there, so I sent a picture to my husband and let him know that this is a place I would like for him to come back to with me. It's the kind of place you want to share with those you love. Perhaps the solitude we experienced on this day was part of its allure for me. I liked this spot as well as I liked Mt. LeConte, partly perhaps because there have always been lots of people at the summit of LeConte and here, at least on this day, there was no one but us.

 I learned a great deal about hiking and nutrition on this hike too. On the previous hike we took, I made the first four or five miles ok, but the last four were miserable. I felt like my body was simply not wanting to go another step. Our plan for this day was to do 14.3 miles--more than just the two Gregory's Bald trails. Because we are working on hiking all of the 900 miles of trails in this great park, we also decided we would hike the little spur that connects to the Appalachian Trail at Doe Knob. You can hike Gregory's Bald in just slightly over 10 miles, but this little spur was going to add 4 miles to our day. I knew I needed to do something different with nutrition to see if I could get my body to be a more willing partner with my mind on a hike this long. I read up a little on hiking and nutrition and fixed myself a healthy spaghetti dish on the night before the hike. Then on the morning of the hike, I had an English muffin with one egg and one piece of turkey bacon on it. Along the way up to the Bald, we all ate a banana, drank plenty of water, and nibbled on a little beef jerky. I have never felt better on a hike! I had also frozen one of those little packages of fruit, a Fruit Buddy, and by the time I ate it, it was no longer frozen, but still cold, sort of like a small fruit smoothie. I also packed a roll of the gummy-like Shot Bloks by Clif which did give me a boost on the last few miles of this trek. I really felt great all day long on this hike--much better than I have felt hiking in a while and I'm excited about that.

This was a fabulous hike and one that I cannot recommend enough. If at all possible try to do this hike in late June went the azaleas are blooming, but I'm sure that this hike is a great one in any time of year. I can especially envision these vistas draped in the splendor of reds, golds, and oranges that will paint the deciduous trees on the surrounding ridges in the fall. Hmmm, I think I see another hike to the top in my near future!

Follow this link to all the pictures from the hike to Gregory's Bald: 

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