Thursday, May 31, 2012

One Night Backpack

We haven’t been backpacking in a very long time.  I actually can’t remember the last time.  It may have been in 2009 when D-Tour and I did a section on the Appalachian Trail.  Gene didn’t go with me that year so who knows when he last backpacked.

We’ve been hauling these packs and gear around all this time and occasionally have that discussion of whether or not to get rid of all this extra weight.  I was always the one who was reluctant knowing I wanted to do these trails in the Smokies.  So here we are.  Just back from the first backpack in years and have the aches and pains to prove it, but it was a great trip.

The trail I needed was Swallow Fork.  Our plan was to do a loop hike beginning at Big Creek Campground on the northeastern side of the park.  We would hike up Big Creek Trail for about 5 miles to backcountry campsite 37 just past Swallow Fork trailhead.  The next morning we would hike up Swallow Fork Trail to Mount Sterling Ridge Trail which connects to Baxter Creek Trail.  We’d take Baxter Creek Trail down to Big Creek Campground for a total of 16.7 miles.

It took most of Tuesday to get our packs ready.  We had to find everything, since it has been stuck in any nook and cranny available in the motorhome.  We were pretty pleased with our pack weight after we were finished.  Gene ended up with 28 lbs and mine was 24 lbs.  There is a whole discussion about pack weight that I won’t go into now, but I will say that we are pretty old fashioned and still carry external frame packs.

Lunch the first day by Mouse Creek Falls
We only had 5 miles to hike the first day so we didn’t rush out at the crack of dawn.  We had our breakfast and rechecked and double checked our lists again.  It would have been easy to forget something since we’re so out of practice, but fortunately we got there with everything we needed.

Big Creek Trail is a dream.  As the name implies, it follows Big Creek upstream all the way to our campsite gaining about 1250 feet over the five miles.  The trail crossed the creek several times, but fortunately always on footbridges.  It’s a horse trail which gets a lot of use, so you have to watch your step.

The kitchen
Campsite 37 is right on the creek. This is apparently a popular place and there is room for many tents.  I think the limit is twelve people, but there were eleven there Wednesday night and plenty of room for several more.  We got there before anyone else and had the pick of site to pitch our tent.  We chose one next to the creek.
Hanging the packs for the night

Ready for day 2

This morning we broke camp and headed up Swallow Fork Trail.  This was our big climb for this trip, gaining over 2000 feet in four miles, most of which was in the last half.  The trail follows Swallow Fork upstream almost the entire length of the trail.  This was a beautiful little creek and it made the trail so enjoyable.  We did have to ford it a couple times, but both were easy rock hops.  Swallow Fork Trail ends high in the spruce-fir forest at that beautiful gap where it junctions with Pretty Hollow trail.  We were here just a few weeks ago and like then we took a nice long break.

Lunch at Mt Sterling Fire Tower

Mount Sterling Ridge Trail was next from Pretty Hollow Gap.  This was another tough climb.  It was only about 700 feet, but after climbing most of that the trail went over a bump in the mountain and dropped down several hundred feet.  I hate it when I have to gain elevation twice.  This little two mile stretch of Mount Sterling Ridge Trail really got to us.  I think we were getting pretty tired by then.

Mount Sterling fire tower (elevation 5800 ft) is still open for anyone wanting a good workout.  Gene went up about a third of the way, but I sat that one out.  The last time I was at the fire tower the trees and shrubs were short.  Now they’ve all grown up and blocked the view.  We did get a glimpse off the mountain at the trail junction with Baxter Creek Trail.

Everything on Baxter Creek Trail was covered in moss
Baxter Creek Trail was all downhill.  Finally, we needed a break. This trail drops down from Mt Sterling to Big Creek Campground--5000 feet over 6 miles.  It’s steep and it’s rocky. The first mile down Baxter Creek Trail from Mt Sterling is through that high elevation forest I love so much.   As we continued downhill, that constant pounding of our feet began to take its toll.  We were sure glad to see the car after this long day.

I’m gonna stop there.  I may think of more to add tomorrow, but I too tired now.

So, that’s it for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Andrews Bald

Andrews Bald is a popular attraction (if you can call it an attraction) in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Being a high elevation bald (almost 6000 feet), it offers some of the best views in the park.  The trail to Andrews Bald is only 1.8 miles, so within reach of even the most casual hikers.  In June, this bald is ablaze with Catawba Rhododendrons.  Needless to say, Andrews Bald gets a lot of visitors.

Andrews Bald is named for Andres Thompson.  Andres used to bring his cattle up to the bald during the 1840s.  Later on he moved his family to the bald.  There is no evidence of a homestead, but almost anywhere the house may have been located would have offered a fantastic view.

There is much speculation about how the balds along the southern Appalachians were formed, but it is certain they were used for cattle grazing during the summer months in the 1800s.  Under the management of the National Park most of these grassy mountaintops are returning to their natural state as trees take over.  Only two balds within the Park are being maintained as grassy balds--Gregory Bald and Andrews Bald.  Along the edge of these large expanses of grass are native azaleas and rhododendrons.

We’ve been to Andrews Bald several times over the years, but wanted to go again just to check out the new trail.  We’d heard good things about this stretch of reconstructed trail built in 2008 to replace the badly worn, rocky, rutted, and muddy old trail.

Because Andrews Bald offers such good views, we waited for a clear day.  The fact that it occurred on Memorial Day weekend was unfortunate, but we got up very early and rushed off up the mountain hoping to avoid the worst of the crowds.  We did and had a whole hour on the bald all to ourselves.

One of the few views we had from the trail before reaching Andrews Bald
The shortest access to Andrews Bald is via Forney Ridge Trail at Clingman’s Dome parking lot.  From the trailhead it is a 1.8 mile hike to Andrews Bald.  The first mile of the trail is steadily downhill to the junction with Forney Creek Trail.  Continuing on Forney Ridge the trail climbs slightly to Andrews Bald.

We were mighty impressed with the new trail.  The workmanship was superb.  I can’t even describe the rock steps; you’ll just have to see for yourself in the photos.  This trail is fine, very fine.  And, it’s my understanding that most of the work was done by volunteers.  Thank you, trail crew.

As we entered the bald, it seemed a little grown up with rhododendron and trees, but in another hundred feet or so we were in the open with a large grassy area surrounded by a few trees and lots of budding Catawba rhododendron.  Catawba rhododendron is a much shorter bush with smaller leaves than the Rosebay rhododendron we see at lower elevations.  It was just budding when we were there.  I expect in another week it will be in full bloom.  What a show that will be.  We may go back just to see that display.
Entering the bald
This was a short hike and we didn’t have anything else planned for the day, so intended to stay a while.  We’d packed a thermos of coffee and brought along some chocolate pound cake.  We found a spot with a view and made ourselves a nest.  Nothing could’ve been finer.  The most amazing thing was the absence of other people.  We had the whole bald to ourselves.

After an hour or so and after we’d drank all the coffee, we packed up to leave.  We hadn’t gone many steps before we started seeing all those other folks we’d expected.  They were coming in droves.  By the time we got back to the parking lot, which is huge, they were driving in circles just waiting for anyone to leave.  Going early was the thing to do.

Dark-eyed junco
The dark-eyed junco doesn't migrate north and south, but stays in the park year round.  He migrates up and down the mountain with the seasons.

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

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend

We have enjoyed a very pleasant weekend.  After our long day on Friday, we weren’t anxious to much of anything on Saturday.  And, that’s about what we did--not much of anything.  We went for a short hike on Sunday, but I’ll save that for another post.  Today, my uncle and his youngest son drove over from Greenville, South Carolina to spend the afternoon with us.  It’s always good to be with family.

Viet Nam Veterans Memorial, Tallahassee, Florida
I guess this weekend marks the start of summer and vacation season.  Our weather certainly seems like summer with temperatures in the upper 80s.  I’m not quite ready for that yet.  I like the warm days and cool nights of spring.  As we drove through Cherokee this afternoon we saw many, many families with young children playing in Oconaluftee River.  That brought back a few childhood memories.

Gorham, New Hampshire
Irish Brigade, Antietam

The reason for this holiday, as you know, is to remember those men and women who gave their lives in service for their country.  As we travel around the United States, we often stop at Veteran Memorials. Each monument or memorial is different, but they all say the same thing--We honor you for your love of country and for your life given for our freedom.

Kent, Connecticut

In memory of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice I’m posting photos of just a few of the memorial we’ve seen in our travels.

Korean War Memorial, Tallahassee, Florida
Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Spruce Mountain and Balsam Mountain Trails

Sometimes I wonder about our thinking processes (actually, I was the one doing the thinking).  When I looked at the map to select our last hike, I saw Spruce Mountain out there.  Well, Spruce Mountain is a very short 1.2 mile hike and it seemed like a shame to make the drive to Spruce Mountain without doing a little something else.  The logical choice for a little something else was a short section of Balsam Mountain.

My reasoning was based primarily on the location of the Spruce Mountain and Balsam Mountain trails.  Access to both trails is from Balsam Mountain Road which is a 13-mile one-way gravel road.  Cherokee is the closest access to Balsam Mountain Road, but it still involves an hour drive from our campground to the Blue Ridge Parkway to Heintooga Ridge Road to Balsam Mountain Road.  It seemed more logical to hike Spruce Mountain Trail then continue down the Balsam Mountain Road to Balsam Mountain Trail and hike it therefore avoiding a second trip down that gravel road.

We got a very early start, leaving at 6:30, almost before I got my coffee swallowed.  We arrived at the trailhead just before 9 AM.  There is a very small pullout at the trailhead for parking.  Spruce Mountain trail begins at the lower reaches of the spruce-fir forest and climbs steeply for about 700 in a mile.  This trail has changed over the past few years.  My older guidebook from 1997 has this trail as being 2 miles long, but Gene’s 2005 book has the current length of 1.2 miles.  According to my book, the trail came to a junction with Polls Gap Trail and continued on for another mile to the site of a fire tower and small ranger cabin located on Spruce Mountain.  The fire tower and cabin had both been removed, but the trail was still open.  Polls Gap Trail is also closed.  That happened about 2000.  Perhaps this last mile of Spruce Mountain was closed at the same time.  I’m just guessing about that.

Anyway, now from the junction with Poll Gap Trail, Spruce Mountain trail continues two-tenths of a mile to backcountry campsite 42.  It is a lovely spot for an overnight stay, but based on the grass growing everywhere including the middle of the trail as well as very close to the fire ring, we suspect it doesn’t get much use.

This was an easy little hike and quite scenic.  We were up and down in an hour and we even took a short break at the campsite.  But, we had Balsam Mountain Trail to do so we continued on our journey.

Two and a half miles further on Balsam Mountain Road was our next trailhead.  Balsam Mountain Trail is 10 miles in length, but we were only hiking the first 4.3 miles (and back, of course).  The trailhead is in Pin Oak Gap and there is plenty of parking in a grassy (or muddy) area on the side of the road.  Pioneer families living in the Cataloochee area brought their cattle up through Pin Oak Gap and on to the grassy areas of Balsam Mountain to graze during the summer months.

The trail was, I assume, the old cattle path, then later a logging road.  It rises gently from the road before dropping slightly to Beech Gap.  We took a break at Beech Gap sitting on the same log we had used for lunch on the day we hiked Beech Gap Trail with Sharon and Bill.  This gap is a wide flat spot.  During the logging days, logging trains passed through the gap.  Today we saw evidence of wild hog activity.

Balsam Mountain trail is popular with horsemen and in the 2-mile section between Beech Gap and Laurel Gap Shelter we crossed several large mud holes.  Fortunately, narrow boardwalks had been installed at the edge of the trail so we didn’t have to walk through the muck.  Away from these mud holes, the trail was still pretty soft and we had to be careful with every step to not land on our backsides.

Laurel Gap shelter was renovated last fall; it still smells of new wood.  It is similar to the other backcountry shelters with an extended cooking porch, sky lights, and a stone fireplace.  Someone had put a very large tarp over the front.  They must have been there on a cold, windy night.  Gene has stayed at this shelter several times over his hiking career, so he was excited to return to one of his favorite spots.

Beyond the shelter, we hiked another two-tenths of a mile to the junction with Mt Sterling Ridge Trail.  We had a nice, long lunch break at the shelter before starting our return trip to the car.

One of the highlights of today was seeing not one, not two, but four pink lady slippers.  What a thrill and so late in the season.  Of course, we were at 4500 feet.

We were off the trail by mid-afternoon, but we had a long drive ahead of us.  I still think it was a good plan to combine these two trails to avoid driving that road a second time, but it certainly turned into a very long day.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Waterfalls of Deep Creek

One of the more popular areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Deep Creek.  This entrance to the Park is about 10 miles from Cherokee along US 19 near the community of Bryson City.

One of the features that makes this a popular place is Deep Creek which is wide and fast moving--just right for tubing.  Along Deep Creek Road from Bryson City right up to the gate of the National Park are private vendors displaying thousands of tubes for rent.

Deep Creek is also popular with fly fishermen.  Deep Creek Trail follows Deep Creek upstream for some eleven miles of easy access for fishermen.  The tubers are only allowed along the lower 1.5 miles, so the fishermen are in their element for the other 10 miles.

Deep Creek is popular with hikers and horsemen, also.  There are about 5 loop trails that begin near the picnic/campground area.  A couple of these loops are short--less than 5 miles.  The others vary in length, but are all short enough for a day hike.  Many other trails are accessible off these loop trails and a backpacker could spend many days wandering around between Deep Creek, Newfound Gap Road, and Clingman’s Dome.  Deep Creek Trail is over 14 miles in length from the parking lot at the picnic area all the way to Newfound Gap Road.  This is the same Deep Creek we had lunch by on Monday; we were just 10 miles up the trail from the campground at the junction with Fork Ridge.

The Deep Creek area is popular with the tourists.  There is a large picnic area with a restroom facility with changing areas for the tubers.  There is a picnic pavilion for larger groups and there is a small campground for tents and small RVs.  Deep Creek Trail is one of only a couple trails in the Smokies that allows bicycles (only for the first 1.5 miles).  Perhaps the biggest attraction of the area are the waterfalls.  There are three waterfalls within a mile of each other.

Juney Whank Falls

We came to Deep Creek to see the waterfalls.  There is a very large parking lot at the end of the picnic/campground area and a short access trail at the back of this parking lot which leads one-tenth of a mile to the Deep Creek Horse Trail.  Following the horse trail for another two-tenths of a mile brought us to Juney Whank Falls.  A footbridge crosses the creek in front of the falls so you can get up close and personal.  Juney Whank is actually divided into two sections with a total drop of about 90 feet.  The trails guidebook says that Juney-whank is Cherokee for “the bear went that a-way”, but the National Park website says Juney is the nickname for Junaluska Whank, who may be buried nearby.

Tom Branch Falls
We continued on the trail after crossing the footbridge in front of the falls which led steeply downhill about 0.4 mile to junction with Deep Creek Trail.  Following Deep Creek Trail upstream we soon came to Tom Branch Falls on the far side of Deep Creek.  This falls drops about 60 feet.  There were several benches on the bank for viewing this waterfall.  When we were there it was a very peaceful setting.  I can imagine on a hot summer day Deep Creek would be thick with tubers at this location.

Indian Creek Falls
Continuing on up Deep Creek Trail for about a half mile we came to the junction with Indian Creek Trail.  Taking Indian Creek Trail for a couple hundred feet brought us to Indian Creek Falls.  This waterfall is short at 25 feet, but it makes up for that shortness with its width.

After making a few photos, we continued on Indian Creek Trail for a half mile to junction with the Loop Trail.  This one mile trail climbs up a short distance to Sunkota Ridge Trail then drops down the other side to connect with Deep Creek Trail to form a loop.  From there it was 1.7 miles back to the parking lot.

Patiently waiting for me to finish making photos

We had our picnic lunch in the recently renovated picnic area then toured the campground before heading back to Cherokee.  Our total hiking milage for the day was 4.6 with an over the top scenic beauty rating.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mingus Mill

Tuesday we had a chance to get back over to the Mingus Creek area.  I wanted to scout out the slave cemetery mentioned in our trails guidebook.  We had a good outing and we found a cemetery, but I’m not sure we found what I was looking for.

We had to go right by the Oconaluftee Visitor Center to get to Mingus Creek so we stopped in the small gift shop there to purchase a “cemeteries of the Smokies” book.  I could have sworn I’d seen one in there on our previous visit, but I guess I was dreaming.  They had churches, gristmills, log homes, waterfalls, flowers, trees, and reptiles of the Smokies, but no cemeteries.  Gene suggested to the ranger on duty that she might like to make a project of that, but she declined the invitation.

From the description in the trail guidebook we knew the cemetery was just a few feet from the parking lot at Mingus Mill.  When we were there last week, we didn’t see any evidence of a trail, but then again, we weren’t really looking.  Tuesday, however, the grass had been mowed creating a path that went right up the hill to a small cemetery.

There were no identifying markers to indicate this was indeed the “slave” cemetery.  There were about eight graves marked with field stones, but without any inscriptions.  The maintenance crew had apparently just moved, so the graves were very visible.

With nothing to positively identify this cemetery, I wasn’t sure if it was the one I was looking for.  It’s mentioned in the trail guidebook, but there are several things mentioned in that book that I’m suspect of like Mr Enloe (of Enloe Creek) being the father of Abraham Lincoln.  I didn’t do a lot of research, but did find an article from 2009 in a local Knoxville paper which states that park archives list one slave cemetery located in the Cataloochee area.  So who knows for sure if this is truly an old slave cemetery, certainly not I.

After making a few photos, we walked over to the Mill.  Mingus Mill was the largest gristmill in what is now the National Park.  Unlike most of the mills in the park that are powered by a large waterwheel, Mingus was powered by a cast-iron turbine.  Mingus Mill was built in 1886 by its first millwright, Thomas Early.

We walked the length of the flume with its sideboards covered in brilliant green moss, to the point where the water is diverted from Mingus Creek.

I guess this is what we would call the "in-take valve" at the head of the flume
This mill is still operational today and the miller sells cornmeal and flour ground on site.  We had the opportunity to speak with Winston, the miller on duty while we were there.  He had shut the mill down just before we got there, so he wasn’t too busy to chat.  Winston has been at Mingus Mill for a number of years, but being 80 plus years old, he’s thinking of retiring now.  I don’t know why.  He certainly seemed spry enough as we watched him climb the ladder and maneuver the lever to divert the water from the flume.  I’d say he has several good years left.

Winston shutting down the mill for another day.
We had a good time and we learned some things as well.  If I can ever get these trails hiked, I’d like to spend more time delving into the history of the communities inside the Park.

Another brave soul has decided to follow this blog.  We’d like to welcome JANA.  Thanks for tagging along.

That’s it for today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fork Ridge Trail

Monday’s hike was along the Fork Ridge Trail which is a 5-mile section of the Mountains to the Sea Trail.  Our hike started high (nearly 6000 feet) on Clingman’s Dome Road.  Our goal was to descend Fork Ridge to Deep Creek then retrace our steps back up the mountain to the car; a total distance of 10.2 miles and a 3,000 foot loss and gain.  This trail lends itself well to a car shuttle--going down Fork Ridge and out via Deep Creek Trail to Newfound Gap Road.  We didn’t have that option so it was in and out for us.  At least we didn’t have to cross Deep Creek.

Our one good view along the trail
The trailhead is on Clingman’s Dome Road just across the road from the Appalachian Trail.  The parking for both these trails is a really a couple of small pullouts which will accommodate five or six cars.

Our hike started in the Spruce-Fir forest.  Have I mentioned that I love the high elevation areas of the park?  There is something about this cool, damp, mossy, dark forest that immediately soothes my soul.  The long song of the winter wren accompanied us as we began our descent.  We were also excited to see bluebead lily in bloom with it’s yellowish green flower before the blue bead forms.

Bluebead Lily
After the first couple miles we left the fir forest and entered the hardwoods and the blackberry patch.  For a half mile or so, the blackberry brambles were so thick I felt like I was bushwhacking rather than hiking a maintained trial.  Today we bear the scratches of all those thorns.  I was definitely glad to have my trekking poles to help push them to the side.


The spring wildflowers are all but gone.  To take their place in offering color to the forest are the rhododendron, mountain laurel, and flame azalea.  We saw a few rhododendron bushes in bloom, but their not quite ready yet.  The mountain laurel is just gorgeous at the lower elevations.  The azalea are just past their prime, but we were excited to find this yellow azalea just about at peak performance.  On the forest floor, we saw lots of galax in bloom.

We were both ready for a long lunch break by the time we reached Deep Creek.  Sometime in the past, there was a footbridge across this wide creek.  There is no evidence of any bridge today.  I’m glad we didn’t need to cross the creek--it would have been a wet crossing for sure and wider and deeper than Enloe Creek.  Perhaps later in the summer after the spring rains have had a chance to run off there might be a rock hop across, but not today.  The water looked to be about knee deep on the Fork Ridge side.

Deep Creek
We sat on the rocks by the creek and enjoyed our lunch break.  Then it was back up the mountain, through the blackberry brambles, to the car we went.  We were both pretty tired at the end of the day, but it was a beautiful hike and one we enjoyed very much (all except for the blackberries).

That all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Sneak Preview

This has been a relaxing day.  Of course, there are always a few chores to do, but they didn’t take long and we’ve had the entire afternoon to do fun stuff and watch our boots dry.  On these lazy afternoons between hikes, we like to study the maps and make plans.  Believe it or not, we actually have a rough plan for the next couple of months.  Thought I’d share that with you today.

When we got back to Cherokee after our trip to Nashville, we decided to sign up for a month at this little campground.  During the spring we enjoyed the freedom of moving around more often and especially enjoyed our stays inside the National Park.  However, with the temperatures warming up as we head into summer, we’ll have to save those rustic campgrounds without electricity to run our air conditioner for the cooler days of fall.  As you know, it’s much cheaper to rent a campsite by the month than by the day, so here we are until the middle of June.  I don’t have to tell you how we’ll occupy our time.

One of the “must do” items on our list for this year was to explore Pisgah National Forest and the area along the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville.  A great location to do that is from the Mt. Pisgah Campground.  There are a couple of problems with that campground.  One is--no hookups.  Late June can get pretty warm here, but we’re hoping the high elevation of this campground (nearly 5,000 feet) will be enough to keep us cool without the AC.  The other problem is there are only a very few sites large enough for us to fit into and these sites are not reservable.  We’re going to try our best to make this work.  If it doesn’t, then we’ll find a commercial campground nearby.

July will find us back in Waynesville.  I’m not sure how Gene will occupy his time, but I’m going to be hiking in the Smokies with my lady friends from Tennessee Trails Association.  Three other ladies and myself will be doing some backpacking in the Smokies.  We’re all coloring that map.  Those plans have not been finalized yet, so I’m not sure when we’ll get started, but am really looking forward to that adventure.

After the July backpacking extravaganza, our plans get a little sketchy.  We’re thinking we’ll move north on the Blue Ridge Parkway stopping to do some hiking around Mt Mitchell and then Linville Gorge.  We might even get as far as Mt Rogers in Virginia.

Of course, at a whim we could trash this plan and go with something entirely different.

One thing is for sure.  Hiking is our passion and this whole area of East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Southern Virginia has some of the best hiking you’ll find anywhere.  We’re lovin’ it.

Herb, Doug, and Gene on observation platform on Mt Mitchell
Last week, Gene had his “boys time away” when he met his hiking buddies from Nashville at Mt Mitchell.  I’ve heard a few stories about that trip.  I’m not sure I want to know very many details.  I was hoping Doug would post a trip report on the TTA Nashville blog so you could read first hand what Gene was up to.  Here are a couple photos Doug sent of their trip.

Looking south from the top of Mt Mitchell
We want to welcome our newest follower--Linda.  She has a passion for hiking as well as other outdoor activities and documents her adventures with her awesome photography.  We’re glad to have Linda tagging along.

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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Enloe Creek Trail

Today was the day to hike Enloe Creek Trail.  I had not been looking forward to this trail for a couple of reasons.  The first reason was Hyatt Ridge Trail.  This was the trail we did last week that I declared the worst in the park.  The second reason was crossing Enloe Creek.  I had heard that the footbridge was out and it would be a wet crossing.

We saw some very fine trail building on the first section of Enloe Creek Trail
Total distance for today was going to be 11 miles with almost 4,000 feet of climb so we got an early start leaving the house a little after 7 AM.  The trailhead for Enloe Creek is at the junction with Hyatt Ridge Trail.  We got parked that the Hyatt Ridge trailhead and started uphill.  It is just a little less then 2 miles to the junction--all uphill, all on heavily used horse trail, but I’ll have to say it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.

We stopped to take a short break at the top of the ridge at the Enloe Creek Trail junction.  The trail drops off the ridge and down to Raven Fork.  The trail is similar to Hyatt Ridge Trail in that it is wide, relatively steep, and heavily used by horses.  As we descended, the roar of Raven Fork was almost deafening.  Raven Fork is mighty water--fast moving and pretty deep for a creek.  A steel foot bridge spans Raven Fork high above water level.

Just on the other side of the bridge is backcountry campsite 47.  This is a very small camp with room for only 2 or 3 tents.  A retired couple from Michigan were just finishing up breakfast when we arrived.  We chatted with them for a few minutes then began our climb to the junction with Hughes Ridges where Enloe Creek Trail terminates.

A waterfall on Enloe Creek far below the trail.
The trail beyond the campsite is a narrow footpath and gets much less use.  Today, it was overgrown in many places.  Not overgrown in the sense that it hasn’t been maintained, but overgrown with new spring vegetation.  We soon left Raven Fork and, as we wound around the mountain, picked up Enloe Creek.  Enloe Creek is pretty mighty itself and we could see several waterfalls and cascades, but were too far above the creek to get a good picture.

Looking for a rock hop
I had almost forgotten about the footbridge being out over Enloe Creek until we were at the crossing.  Holy cow!  Gene thought he could see a way to rock hop and tried crossing, but when he slipped and got his foot caught between a couple of boulders, he signaled for me to wade.  There was no way to keep dry feet; the water was up to my calves.  Once across the creek, the trail was so rugged there was no place to stop.  We just sloshed around with water in our boots the last mile and a half to the top.

The trail junction sign at Hughes Ridge was a welcome sight.  I spread out my poncho and got out of those boots.  During our long lunch break they actually started to dry some.

Since we were doing this hike as an out and back, we got to cross Enloe Creek on our return trip.  The second crossing didn’t take nearly as long.  We knew there was no way to stay dry so we just plowed right on in.  The opposite bank offered several rocks to sit on so we could empty our boots and wring out our socks.  I was actually looking forward to putting on dry socks.  I knew they wouldn’t stay dry because they would just soak up the water from the wet boot, but the idea sounded so nice.  However, when I dug in my pack for the dry socks, they weren’t there.  What a disappointment.

For those of you who don’t hike, you may be wondering why we didn’t take our boots off to cross.  Because the creek bottoms are covered in slippery rocks, it is much safer to cross with shoes on.  This morning when I was packing my pack, I forgot we had a wet crossing otherwise I would have taken my crocs to change into.  It was better to get my boots wet than to risk falling and breaking some body part.

We were not as thrilled with that 2-mile section of Hyatt Ridge trail in the afternoon as we had been in the morning.  It’s funny how we see things differently depending on how tired we are.  This afternoon, that section of trail was steep, rocky, and churned up by horses.  However, I still think I might need to amend my previous opinion of this trail.  It’s not the worst in the park, in fact, it’s pretty good.

We did see some wildlife today.  There were no bears or even evidence of bears on any of the trail we were on today.  We haven’t seen a bear the nearly 2 months we’ve been here.  It’s about time, don’t ya think?  We did see one small snake.  Gene stepped right over it without ever seeing it.  I was halfway over when I saw it.  Boy, did I do a little hop around.  We saw a wild hog today--right on the trail.  We see evidence all the time of hogs, but in all the years I’ve hiked here, today was the first time to actually see one.

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