Sunday, June 9, 2013

Chix with Stix on the Appalachian Trail--4 Amazing Days in the Smokies

Last week, my hiking group, Chix with Stix, set off from Newfound Gap to backpack to the northern boundary of the Smoky Mountains, ending at Davenport Gap. I will be blogging about the experience, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a short video of the highlights. You can check it out here:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

So Much History--So Many Miles!

I've been looking forward to hiking Old Settler's Trail for a long time because it is so rich in the history of the time before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park became what it is today. I love to imagine what it might have been like to have really lived in these mountains in the days when folks supported themselves with the efforts of their own hands. Old Settler's Trail allows you to walk literally back into a time when that was all true.

This trail covers approximately 16 miles between the Greenbrier and Cosby sections of the park, meandering in and out of gaps and beside creeks along what once were probably wildlife trails and eventually became trails used by the folks who lived here. Much of the trail was created along paths that once connected the various settlements in this region to each other.
So many remnants and relics remain along this trail--from gorgeous stone chimneys and impressive walls of boulders laid one on another to a few pots still scattered around the foundation of what once was someone's home--that it is impossible to walk along it without putting yourself in the footsteps of the old families such as the Partons, the Huskeys, and the Lindsays who once called this area home. I found myself imagining what it must have been like to provide for and raise a family out there--the hardships that must have abounded, but also the blessings that such a life would have provided.
Since folks primarily built their homes in the lower areas of these mountains, along creeks that would sustain them and in areas where some flat lands could be found to raise crops and livestock, there's not a tremendous amount of elevation change on this hike. The topography is not difficult; only the length of the hike, if you do the entire trail, makes it challenging. You could, however, do a part of the trail in and out, or you could backpack it and spend the night at Backcountry Campsite #33 and still see plenty of historical relics to give you a feel for the lifestyle of these hearty people. The most impressive structures, in my mind anyway, are the massive stone walls, and those lie on the Cosby side of the trail.
The Mountain Laurel were especially beautiful!
There were some pleasant surprises on the day we did this hike. I had not hiked in a couple of weeks, so the first thing I noticed that was a delightful surprise was that the Mountain Laurel were in full bloom. Laurel flanked the trail on both sides in many spots providing gorgeous sights which replaced the vistas that are not available along this trail because of the lower elevations. We also were lucky enough to see many Pink Lady's Slippers in peak bloom, again, another unexpected treat. About half way into the hike, maybe about two miles before we got to Campsite #33, we encountered first a bear cub, and then about a mile closer to the campsite, a huge black bear, presumably a male, foraging on the prolific supply of what I think were Hickory nuts scattered along the forest floor. We were lucky enough to have seen him without him seeing us and were able to stand and just watch him for a few minutes before speaking loudly enough for him to notice our presence. Lucky for us, since the trail went straight toward where he had been standing, as soon as he heard us, he threw his head up in the air, looked right at us for just a split second, and then made a beeline back into the woods in the opposite direction. That was quite a moment for us!

One word of caution though if you decide to do this trail--about half way in there is a considerable amount of storm damage and at one point the debris is so thick we became concerned that we had lost the trail. Just make your way through the debris though and you will find the trail on the other side of the small creek. Once you see the small waterfall that is mentioned in the "brown book" hiker's Bible, you will feel better, or at least we did, because you will know that yes, you are indeed, still on Old Settler's Trail.

I really did enjoy this hike, but in closing I just want to say that a part of me was sad--sad for the settlers who had worked so hard to build such structures in such a remote region only to have been asked (or forced) to leave these homes behind. It's hard to think about the fact that if those folks had remained sole owners of their property, then I would not have had the ability to enjoy these mountains as much as I do. It's a difficult realization to come to. I truly want to thank them for their sacrifice.