Sunday, November 25, 2012

Frosty Morning on Meigs Mountain

The temperature reading on the dash of my vehicle showed 26 degrees as we made our way to Tremont Institute to drop a car to be waiting for us when we finished the hike chosen for today. The temperature had not changed when we pulled into the parking lot at Elkmont for the Jake's Creek Trailhead. We bundled up--layers of Cuddleduds, hiking pants, a short-sleeved UnderArmour, a long-sleeved North Face warm gear shirt, and then to top that all off, a fleece pull-over. Of course, gloves and a hat were the final accoutrements for the day. We were determined to stay warm, that's for sure!

We only had to travel about .8 miles on Jake's Creek Trail, but that outer layer of fleece pullover didn't even last to the juncture with Meigs Mountain Trail. I shed it about half way up! It spent the rest of the day tied around my waist. Jake's Creek Trail is wide and nice, but it gains elevation pretty fast. Bundled up in all that gear, that short stint on Jake's Creek was the hardest part of our day. By the time I reached Meigs Mountain Trail, I had shed the jacket, the hat, and the gloves. The gloves would come back on, but the hat and jacket were simply along for the ride. Layering for a winter hike is not something I'm good at yet. I feel like I need to have enough clothing with me to survive a night out in case of trouble, but that makes for a heavy pack.

The most interesting things along this part of the trail are the old vacation homes common in this Elkmont area. Apparently these home owners escaped being removed from the Park until 1992 when their extended leases expired along with that of the stately old Wonderland Hotel. The end of that era left remnants of what would have once been quaint, relaxing places for their owners to retreat from the hustle and bustle of the real world below. This old home with the family name of Croftton on the front sports a lovely stone fireplace still in excellent shape, but the walls and ceiling are crumbling after 20 plus years of disuse by anything other than Park wildlife. We did not go in these old homes--they are condemned and off limits--but this picture was taken through a window whose glass panes had long ago been broken out.
We returned to the trail and continued the ascent which soon led us to the trailhead for Meigs Mountain Trail which turns to the right and then crosses over Jake's Creek fairly soon. We at first thought we would have to cross Jake's Creek by rock hopping, but soon found a footbridge hiding just a short distance downstream. There was one place just above the Jake's Creek Crossing where you come to a fork in the trail. There is a sign for Meigs Mountain Trail, but it is placed at an angle that is really not very helpful. We stood for a minute at this crossing debating which way to go. We decided the trail that went down by the river probably wasn't the main trail, so we forked to the left here. Thankfully we were correct in our decision.

Meigs Mountain Trail is a pleasant trail which meanders along overlooking gaps and rises which you can see and enjoy but don't have to climb. This trail is nice and flat (compared to most trails in the Smokies anyway). The larger trees found on some other trails are missing here because this area was logged extensively in the early 1900s. But that does not detract from the beauty of this area, in fact, it may enhance in some ways the views that you have down into these deep gaps.

Backcountry Campsite #20
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
At about 1.9 miles in on Meigs Mountain Trail, we came to backcountry campsite #20, a large and beautiful area which would hold a great many tents. There's a clear, tumbling water source, unlike the campsite we came to later in our hike. There is also an old wagon wheel laying on the ground and another piece of metal or two from some former day. We discussed the idea of coming back here to camp one night to practice what it will be like as we prepare for our AT section hike in the summer. This is a lovely campsite and not very difficult to access.
The water source for Backcountry Campsite #20

Hiking on, we eventually came to the juncture where Curry Mountain Trail comes into Meigs Mountain Trail. There was a tree down that had broken about 2 feet off the ground but had not totally come apart, so the trunk of the tree made a perfect place to sit to rest and eat lunch.

After lunch we continued on and a quick two mile walk past our lunch site led us to the intersection with Meigs Creek Trail. At this point, Meigs Mountain Trail's name changes to Lumber Ridge and the terrain and trail conditions changed significantly soon after. I was under the false impression that Lumber Ridge was a steady descent back to Tremont Institute, but I had apparently not looked closely enough at the trail books before I left. Lumber Ridge makes a steady, but not too difficult, climb up to the saddle at the crest of Lumber Ridge. After that, the trail does descend into the valley below. It is here, on this downhill portion of Lumber Ridge Trail that we were the most worried today. There had apparently been a little rain the previous day or night and in these temperatures, especially when the ridge we were on was shielded from the sun, there were resulting small droplets which had turned to ice. These were scattered all over the leaves that covered the path below our feet. The leaves themselves were covering up the roots and occasional rocks that would trip the unwary hiker, but the little droplets of ice made it very slick. We descended slowly, being careful to watch our footing along the way. Lumber Ridge Trail is narrow in sections and undergoing some erosion on the downslope side leaving areas where one misstep could send one sliding down a very long and steep hillside. However, this trail does offer some excellent views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Beautiful view from one of the openings in the trees along Lumber Ridge Trail

As we approached the lower regions of the Lumber Ridge Trail, about the time we began to hear the Middle Prong River below us, we came to an area of rock outcroppings which, according to Hiking Trails of the Smokies (the Smoky Mountain hiker's Bible) is a rock called Metcalf Phyllite, a metamorphosed shale. It provided something cool to look at other than your feet carefully picking a safe place to land.

Metcalf Phyllite

Soon after passing these rocks our trail for this day ended with a quick descent to Tremont Institute. Just before the end, we came to the intersection where an unofficial trail goes off to Spruce Flats Falls--one of my favorite falls for a picnic. The fact that it's an unnamed, unofficial trail means not as many people frequent that falls as some of the others in the Smokies. We didn't go on this day, but it's only about a mile up to the falls from the Tremont parking lot. There's also a nice shop at Tremont Institute where you can buy the important hiking books (and lots of other great books and souvenirs of the Smokies).

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tami, Loved your report as always. Did Lumber Ridge combined with Meigs Creek just a few weeks ago. Thought you might be interested in that trail you mentioned that goes off to the right shortly after you cross the bridge just after the start of Meigs Mountain Trail. It heads down along the river to an old farmsite and continues as a road coming back into the main trail just below the gate at the beginning of Jakes Creek trail. I most always come back that way after an in/out hike on Jakes Creek. It's a tiny bit shorter and easier! Sharon