Monday, June 4, 2012

Charlie's Bunion

No, this post isn’t about any foot abnormalities Gene might suffer from even though his first name is Charles.  This post is about a geologic feature found along the Appalachian Trail some four miles from Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Charlie's Bunion
How Charlie’s Bunion got its name is an interesting story.  Like most things, it came about as a result of a series of events.  First came the logging companies in the early 1900s.  Then they were all about making the money fast and, in their hast, the loggers cut the trees and moved on leaving the stumps and piles of rubbish behind.  Next, in 1925, came the fire which burned this left over mess along with 400 acres of woodland and left the mountainside a charred, black scar.  A few years later came the downpour of epic proportions which washed rock, dirt, and timber off the slopes to the rivers and creeks below.  After the storm what remained was this jagged rock face.

Horace Kephart led a hike for a couple of his buddies to investigate the damage left by the storm.  Among his group of hikers was a man named Charlie Conner.  As the story goes, when the they approached the jagged rock someone asked its name and Kephart replied “Charlie’s Bunion”.

View from Newfound Gap parking lot
Our hike to Charlie’s Bunion began at Newfound Gap parking area.  On clear days, Newfound Gap offers spectacular views of the mountains.  Since a cold front passed through on Saturday, we thought Sunday might be a good day for views off Charlie’s Bunion.  Also, around the area are sand myrtle which we were hoping to find in bloom.  This is another very popular hike in the Smokies, so once again we got an early start.

We stepped onto the Appalachian Trail near the 200 mile point.  This section of the AT was built in the early 1930s by 22 guys with picks and shovels.  The AT runs almost 70 miles through the Smokies with Newfound Gap being near the center.  Today, the first half mile of our hike is on one of the busiest trails in the Park, but past Charlie’s Bunion the AT quickly becomes too remote for most day hikers.

The AT is the only trail in the Smokies that is blazed.
From Newfound Gap the trail climbs quickly gaining almost 1000 feet in the first 1.5 miles before it begins to taper off.  By the time we made that climb we were ready for a break and Icewater Springs Shelter was just the spot.  The shelter gets its name from the nearby spring which runs very cold, but, like all wild water, should be chemically treated, filtered, or boiled before drinking.

Icewater Springs Shelter. All that rock work in front of the
shelter was just put in on Saturday

View from our lunch spot

Past the shelter the trail descends for 500 feet over the next mile before reaching Charlie’s Bunion.

Lunch at the Bunion

There were several folks at the Bunion when we arrived.  Most were climbing or sitting out on the rock, but that’s not for us.  Way to far to fall if you slipped.  We chose a spot around the corner and a little more out of the wind for our lunch break.  The views were spectacular, of course, but the sand myrtle was past its prime.  We were happy to see the few blooms left.

Sand myrtle

After a long lunch and some more time admiring the views, we headed back to the car.  Once again, we stopped at the shelter for a break and had the opportunity to meet and talk with the trail maintainer for this section.  The Smoky Mountains Hiking Club maintains the AT through the Smokies and they to an excellent job.  Trail building and maintenance is backbreaking work and most is done by volunteers.  We found Pete, an elderly gentleman (maybe 70), near the shelter rearranging dead logs which he was planning to use as steps and water bars on the trail.  Pete, a volunteer himself, is the supervisor of the trail crew for this section.  His goal for this summer is to repair the trail between Newfound Gap and Charlie’s Bunion, a 4 mile section.  He’s also making improvements at the shelter--installing new signs and repairing the muddy area in front of the shelter.  Pete spends three days a week working on the trail.  He hauls his stuff, including tools, to the shelter where he’ll spend his nights.

Our hats are off to Pete and all the volunteers who maintain trails.

We had some great views along the trail

We want to welcome our latest follower, Sonny.  Sonny and his family love being outside hiking and geocaching.  They’re starting to think about retirement and RVing is becoming part of those plans.  Welcome, Sonny.  We’re glad to have you tagging along.

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


  1. yet another beautiful day for a hike!..this one looks like it was a bit more crowded than usual!..lots of people enjoying the great outdoors and the views..breathtaking!!

  2. Charles - Well I never would have guessed!

  3. You certainly had some nice views on this hike. Pete sounds like a man with a mission.

    1. Pete is definitely a man with a mission, and a big smile. He truly enjoys what he does. We truly enjoy it, as well.

  4. It's always interesting to hear how places get some of the names they do. Great scenery along this trail.

  5. If you enjoy reading, check out Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. It's a funny account of hiking the AT, very entertaining. (I don't receive any royalties for this endorsement...just a huge fan).

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, River Cat. It would be fun to read that again. I've also read a couple of his other books. They're all very entertaining.