Saturday, January 9, 2016

First Day Hike for 2016--New Year, New Friend, Old Favorite Trail

Last New Year's Day I hiked to Rocky Top but that was an all day hike--worth it for sure, but I didn't have that much time this year. Since my UT Vols were playing in the Outback Bowl at noon, Gina and I had agreed to do a quick hike on a trail close to Townsend so we could get back home to watch the game. It's been a LONG time since the Vols have played a New Year's Day Bowl, and as diehard fans, neither of us wanted to miss it.

We picked one of my favorite low-elevation trails in the Park--West Prong. This trail begins near Tremont Institute and rises gently along the flanks of Fodderstack Mountain through peaceful hardwood forest. An elevation change of approximately 500 feet over the course of a little over a mile makes for a nice workout, but not an uncomfortable climb. Conversation was rich as Gina and I got to know one another, this being our first time hiking together. We had been "friends" on Twitter for several years, but today was the beginning of a new "real-time" friendship. Even on the climbs of this hike, our paces were similar, making it seem as if we'd hiked together for many years. Gina told me that she tries to hike on New Year's Day because her grandmother told her to always do the things you love on New Year's Day because those are the things you will spend much of the year doing.  I look forward to more hikes with Gina in our beloved Great Smoky Mountains as a result of this First Day Hike.

Once you make it up the first climb, the trail descends at roughly the same slope as the incline had been, again for roughly a mile. The reward for your time and effort is Backcountry Campsite #18 which lies on the banks of the West Prong of the Little River, for which this trail is named. This is such a serene spot that I enjoy coming here even though I've never backpacked in to spend the night. I do need to fix that though! We paused and explored the banks of the river for a bit after crossing the footlog to the campsite. At first it appeared deserted on this New Year's Day, but upon further exploration, we did find that someone HAD camped at the most remote of the campsites further on downriver from the bridge. We waved to them quickly out of common courtesy but didn't bother them, instead, returning upriver to the main part of the site. I could have remained here for a much longer period of time, but since it took us less than an hour to reach this spot, we didn't stop to snack. Instead, we traversed the footlog again and began the trip back to the waiting vehicles.

We made it out in time to snap a quick selfie to memorialize this first hike together, then hurried home. We were rewarded for that effort, too, with an Outback Bowl that was dominated by our Tennessee Volunteers! Nice way to spend a New Year's Day, don't you think?  #GoBigOrange 

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