Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Palmer Creek Trail

Our weather is colder this week.  It’s cooler everywhere around here, but our move to the Cataloochee area brought us up in elevation from where we were in Townsend, so the temperatures are even cooler.  It was near freezing this morning when we got up.

Our friend, Sharon, arrived late yesterday afternoon.  She stopped by briefly on her way to her lodging for the night so we could finalize our hiking plans for the rest of the week.  She was here and we were ready to head to the trailhead bright and early this morning.
A lot of Painted Trillium on the trail today
Our hike for today was up Palmer Creek Trail.  Palmer Creek trail is 4 miles in length and gains 1500 feet in elevation.  That’s not all that bad except Palmer Creek trailhead is 1.6 miles from the parking lot near the Cataloochee horse camp.  Of course, we had to make our way from our campground to Cataloochee which entails traveling over that twisty, curvy, gravel road.  The parking lot is only 16 miles from our campground, but it took about 45 minutes to get there.

Our hike began at the gate to the horse camp.  There is a small parking lot there that will accommodate about 5 vehicles.  Our access to Palmer Creek Trail was 1.6 miles along Pretty Hollow Gap Trail.  This trail runs along Pretty Hollow Creek to the intersection with Palmer Creek Trail.  This section is slightly uphill on an old road.  We passed the horse camp right away and then came to the junction with Little Cataloochee Trail.

Not far past the junction with Little Cataloochee Trail, we encountered what we thought would be our highlight of the day.  Not a bear, but an elk on the trail.  We kept our distance and the elk finally decided to back up a little and move off the trail to let us pass.  That was pretty special.  It is common to see elk grazing down on the road in Cataloochee, but it is rare to see one alone in the backcountry.

At the trail junction with Palmer Creek Trail, we crossed Pretty Hollow Creek on a foot bridge and began our climb up the mountain.  We were very surprised after another mile to find the foot bridge over Lost Creek washed out.  Well, it was actually on the other side of the creek and we used it for a resting bench after we got there.  The crossing was not all that easy.  The water was swift and over the tops of our boots.  There were rocks for hopping, but some of the hops were a long stretch for my short legs.  We made it, however, without getting our socks wet.

We had another creek crossing another half mile up the trail, but that one was fairly easy.  A large, flat boulder offered an easy step to the other side.
Just before our second creek crossing, we found what we thought might be the highlight of the day--a Jack-in-the-Pulpit.  We only saw the one going up, but on our way down we noticed 6 or 8 in that area.

At about the 3 mile mark from the beginning of Palmer Creek Trail, we entered a rhododendron tunnel.  I love these tunnels, especially on a hot summer day as they completely shade the trail and give a nice break from the sun.  We exited the tunnel not far from the end of the trail at Balsam Mountain Road.

At the sign at the end of the trail, we made a few photos then quickly found a lunch spot sheltered from the wind.  The trail flattens out for the last 100 feet of so and we were able to find a flat, grassy spot nestled amongst the trees for a long lunch break.

Balsam Mountain Road is still closed for the season, so we did not have the option of running a shuttle.  We had to retrace our steps down hill to the car at Cataloochee.  The return trip was much faster than going up, and we were more experienced with the creek crossings.  We moved along at a fairly rapid pace.
White Trillium
The highlight of our hike came as we were taking a break just before crossing the foot bridge over Pretty Hollow Creek at the junction with that trail.   As we were munching our snacks and talking, Gene and Sharon suddenly noticed a river otter on the opposite bank.  I saw him just as he ran behind a rock and into the bushes.  He then returned to the creek and, hugging the opposite bank from where we were sitting, made his way upstream.  There are river otters in the park, obviously, but they are rarely seen and almost never seen out of the water.  Wow, that was special.

Our hike was a total of 9.8 miles.  It was a beautiful hike along rushing water for much of that distance.  It’s beautiful in the spring with the creeks full of water and the wildflowers in bloom.  It would also be a lovely hike in July when the rhododendron are in bloom.  With the elk, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and river otter, we had a very special day.

We also saw elk grazing along the road in Cataloochee.  That was pretty nice, too.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

1 comment:

  1. You guys are sure the hiking king and queen of Blogland!! It's amazing to see how close you were to that Elk in your first pic! Sure glad it wasn't a Bear!