Monday, May 7, 2012
Beech Gap and Hyatt Ridge Trails
After a couple days of rest and a couple days of rain, we had pretty much completed all the chores that needed to be done, knitted until my hands were sore, caught up on all the blogs we read, and were more than ready to get back on a trail. I’d been studying the map trying to decide what to do next. I finally decided to finish those trails off Straight Fork Road.
Straight Fork Road is at the end of Big Cove Road out of Cherokee. Straight Fork Road, once it enters the National Park is gravel, but as these gravel roads go, it is in pretty good shape. They even filled in the worst potholes and graded the road while we were taking our break from hiking. Fortunately, Straight Fork allows two-way traffic. So many of these gravel roads in the park are one-way making it a difficult commute to and from the trailhead.
The reason I decided to finish the trails off Straight Fork Road is because I don’t particularly like hiking in this area. There is a horse camp here and these trails get a lot of horse use making them muddy, rocky, and smelly. Many of the trails in the Smokies are open to horses, but some areas are just worse to hike in than others. Scenic beauty can go a long way to help me forget about hiking on horse trail. This area is pretty, but not outstanding. So, just hike it and then I won’t have to come back.
Our plan was to do the hike we had wanted to do with Sharon and Bill last week. Without the extra car, Gene and I had to create a loop by walking 1.3 miles along the road. The plan was to hike up Beech Gap II to Hyatt Ridge where we would turn right and hike out almost a mile to backcountry campsite 44. That would be a little over halfway of our total trip for the day and a good place for our lunch break. Then we would retrace our steps back to the Beech Gap/Hyatt Ridge junction and continue down Hyatt Ridge to Straight Fork Road.
We decided to park the car at the Hyatt Ridge trailhead and do the road walk first. That way we would be at the car when we got off the trail. We figured we’d be happier with the road walk first rather then last when we were dog tired. We had to walk past the horse camp and it looked to be full. We figured we’d see several horses on the trail, but to our surprise, we didn’t. We didn’t see any hikers, either.
We started out slow and easy knowing we had about 2000 feet to gain as we made our way up the three miles to Hyatt Ridge. We hadn’t been on the trail long when we saw fresh bear scat. That brought on a few verses of made up songs and some meaningless conversation. We never saw the bear. Of course, all the racket we were making would have scared anything away.
Beech Gap Trail wove it’s way in and out of coves as it worked its way around and up the mountain. At the back of just about every cove we stepped over a small stream. To our delight, the trail was in good condition. There was evidence of horse use, but the treadway was not beat up and it wasn’t muddy. So it seemed that all my dread of hiking this trail was unwarranted.
We took a short break when we reached the junction with Hyatt Ridge and then went on to campsite 44 for lunch. This campsite is high, far above the streams at lower elevations. For water, overnight campers have McGee Spring. This little spring is the headwaters for the Right Fork of Raven Fork creek. McGee Spring may have been named for Ira McGee who farmed the area near the trailhead way back in the day. Others speculate that the name was given in honor of John McGee, the traveling companion of Bishop Francis Asbury.
We didn’t linger over lunch as scattered thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon. We wanted to make the turn to come off Hyatt Ridge before the lightning show began.
From campsite 44 across Hyatt Ridge all the way to the junction with Enloe Creek was a very pleasant walk. It was steadily downhill, but not too steep and again, there was evidence of horse use, but the trail was in good condition. We reached the junction with Enloe Creek trail just as we heard the first rumblings of thunder in the distance and felt a few sprinkles of rain.
During our break we arranged our packs so our rain gear would be on top then we continued on Hyatt Ridge. At this junction with Enloe Creek, Hyatt Ridge makes a left turn and heads downhill for two miles to the trailhead and our car. Those were, perhaps, the two worst miles of trail I’ve ever hiked. Not only was the trail steep, rocky, and heavily used by horses, it looked like it had been plowed and was ready for planting. At least it wasn’t muddy and after a while I started walking in the dirt--it was softer than the rocks.
Among the rocks, leaves, and dirt we found this little snake. I don’t think he was well. He almost looked like he had mold growing on his scales and his midsection was a little swollen. Gene allowed as how that was probably a grasshopper he ate for lunch. I didn’t pick him up to investigate further.
As bad as the treadway was, the trail passed though beautiful hardwood coves and during the last mile we could hear the water tumbling over the rocks in Hyatt Creek.
The worst part about these last two miles is that we’ll have to hike them again to reach the Enloe Creek trail and then we’ll have to hike it again in order to get back to the car. I’ll save worrying about that for another day.
There you have for today. Thanks for tagging along.