Sunday, February 10, 2013
Ice Skating on the AT--I don't THINK so!
Plan B was another destination hike that I've been wanting to do for many months--Charlie's Bunion. Charlie's Bunion is a rock outcropping which received its name after a hike in which Charlie Connor and Horace Kephart made it to this spot. While there, Charlie took off his boots to reveal a bunion on his foot which was shaped much like the rock outcropping they were visiting. According to Hiking in the Smokies, Mr. Kephart told Charlie that he was going to get his name put on a national map in honor of their hike together and the uncanny resemblance of Charlie's Bunion to the now-famous rock outcropping. That was in the days before the founding of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and Mr. Kephart proved true to his word.
I've been to the nearby Jump Off which offers similar views, but never to Charlie's Bunion. It presents the opportunity for some of those photo ops where it appears that you are standing literally on top of the world, and I was ready for a new one. All was well in the morning as we headed up to the mountains from Knoxville, the skies crystal clear, promising superb views along the AT as we made our way toward the Bunion. This would have been in direct contrast to the weather conditions the last time we had made our way up the AT from Newfound Gap Road during our hike to Mt. LeConte via the Boulevard Trail. On that day, we were literally hiking in the clouds and the views were obscured throughout the entire trip. We were excited that the views would be spectacular with skies this clear and bright.
However, when we got out of our cars at Newfound Gap, the weather was decidedly different even than it had been maybe a mile lower down the road. Up here the wind was whipping and there were snow banks left from plowing the parking lot. Anywhere water had crossed the parking lot as snow had melted yesterday, it was now a solid sheet of ice. Shocked, we donned extra layers that we had packed "just in case," and made our way out to the Appalachian Trail. Once on the trail, we began to warm up pretty quickly. The trees that flanked both sides of the trail protected us from the wind and made the hike much more comfortable than standing in the parking lot getting ready had been.
The Huskey Gap trail was another pleasant walk through the woods, characterized by big, old trees with little underbrush to obscure the scene. Admittedly, the ascent was steeper than Cucumber Gap had been, but it was still not a difficult climb. After Huskey Gap crossed Sugarland Mountain Trail, it began the descent toward Newfound Gap Road. This part of the trail was characterized by sections which were covered by vines hanging from the trees, making you feel as if you were hiking through some enchanted forest which just might possibly come alive at any moment.