Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Accomplished Goals and Great Friends

I did it! My goal for hiking this year was to reach 200 new miles hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and I surpassed that mark on New Year's Eve in the company of my hiking buddies, the Bucket Brigade. We traversed up Bradley Fork Trail to Cabin Flats Trail and on to Backcountry Campsite #49 for the express purpose of finishing my 200. We had done part of Bradley Fork earlier in the month, but snows in the higher elevations kept us from doing the hike we had planned for this day. We decided that a steep descent down Newton's Bald from Thomas Divide probably wasn't a good idea in 5-6 inches of snow. So we chose to do this lower hike instead. Bradley Fork is one of my favorite trails so far because it runs alongside a river for about 4 miles before veering off and moving up toward Hughes Ridge. It was at that junction that we went straight on Cabin Flats Trail, continuing along the river up to Campsite 49. The river rushed with considerable force after all the rains we've had over the last week--rains (and actually snows at Newfound Gap) that threatened to keep me from my goal.

Campsite #49 was a beautiful campsite indeed, flanked on one side by the gorgeous Bradley Fork Creek providing ample swift running water and on the other by a ridge rising high up above. The flats between the two makes for several great tent sites, and I saw two fire circles both with some seating available for hikers. There was even a "recliner" available--a tree trunk bending in the perfect curvature to emulate a fully reclined Lazy Boy. It was snow covered so I didn't try it, but I bet it would be comfy after a long day's hike.

Just before reaching the campsite, we came across a rusted old trestle bridge on which we crossed Bradley Fork Creek. This structure insisted that you stop and wonder about its past. I don't know if it was once a rail crossing used to harvest the timber from the area or what, but I've never seen anything like it in these mountains before. It looked old and I'd love to know its history. We spent a bit of time there taking pictures and enjoying the beauty of the bridge and the gorgeous afternoon.

In truth, I've done two hikes during the week after Christmas in order to reach my goal. I had the pleasure of taking my stepson, Phillip, who lives in sunny Florida on a hike on Thursday. On that day our choice of hikes took us to the back of Cade's Cove to do the first half of Cooper Road Trail. I had wanted to do a destination hike like Charlie's Bunion with him, but we were a little afraid of the higher elevations and after the snows the night before, we didn't think Newfound Gap Road would be open. We were also on a tight timetable due to other obligations that evening, so we chose one of the few close hikes we had left. We were not prepared for what we saw.

Utter devastation prevailed as we moved along Cooper Road, literally an old roadbed, away from the Cove and further toward the intersection with Hatcher Mountain and Beard Cane trails. We crawled over or under more trees than I could begin to count that were downed across our path. The tornado that hit this area a year or so ago and the storm that came through this spring, killing at least two park visitors, had destroyed innumerable trees in this region. It eerily felt as if you were moving through a war zone. Phillip summed it up pretty well when he said it looked like someone came along with a lawnmower and sheered off the tops of the trees along the ridges. The tops of those trees and whole other ones uprooted or broken off were scattered everywhere, piled askew like someone spilled a box of toothpicks. It's something you would have to see to believe.

As I hiked my way out of 2012, I contemplated how lucky I have been to fine a group of women who love to hike these mountains along with me. Having set our sights on the loftier goal of hiking all of the trails in the Smokies, we have worked our way into a full-fledged addiction. We find ourselves drawn to the woods on almost any day that we aren't working and the weather is cooperative. The camaraderie is a blessing and the serenity of the mountains has become our source of sanity in an insane world. So, Happy New Year, and here's to lots of "new miles" in 2013!


  1. The Bradley Fork to Cabin Flats campsite is one of my favorite hikes in the entire park. And like you, my first glimpse at that old railroad bridge took me totally by surprise. I had no idea it was there and it remains one of my favorite "moments" in all my hiking. That first section of Cooper Road off the loop is one I have NOT done, but experienced that same "oh my goodness" moment a few weeks ago on the Rabbit Creek Trail which has been completely remodeled since the tornado and the storm. It's the circle of life, I suppose, but difficult to see nonetheless. Would enjoy hiking with you sometime in the future!! Although beware, I am (by choice) a very slow hiker!!

  2. It would be fun to hike together! We hiked the Davenport Gap AT to the intersection with Lower Mt Cammerer and back down Chestnut Branch this morning. Haven't had time to write that one up yet. Oh, btw, I'm slow too, so that wouldn't be a problem. :-)