Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Gregory Ridge Trail
The ladies hiking extravaganza is now officially over. With families and other commitments, the ladies came and went at various times during the month. Sue hung on to the very end and she and Garnet spent the end of last week on a backpack out of Deep Creek. We had invited them over for dinner Saturday night to celebrate a great month of hiking. Sue and Garnet hiked every hike that was planned and logged right at 100 miles for the month. They were both tired and hungry Saturday night, but spirits were high.
Gene was searching through the guidebook for a hike to do on Monday. With the heat of summer it is hard to find something suitable that isn’t at high elevation. When he came upon what the guidebook suggests as one of the finest hikes in the Smokies, how could we pass that up?
Gregory Ridge Trail is 5 miles in length and gains about 2500 feet. Gregory Ridge Trail junctions with Gregory Bald Trail at Rich Gap. At that point, it is only six-tenths of a mile from Gregory Bald via Gregory Bald Trail. That was another 500 feet in elevation gain, but we were so close, what the heck. We had to go up there. Then there was a little side trail Gene wanted to explore which added at least another half mile to his day. No wonder we were tired by the time we got back to the car.
Our trailhead is at the end of Forge Creek Road, a gravel road which is off the Cades Cove Loop Road. The distance from our house is not all that great--only about 35 miles. However, traffic on Cades Cove Loop Road was SLOW going and it seemed to take forever to get to the trailhead.
The first mile of the trail is almost flat through a beautiful hardwood forest with the sound of Forge Creek tumbling close by. We crossed Forge Creek a total of three times. The first two crossings were on footbridges. At one time there had been a footbridge at the third crossing, but it has been washed away. Remnants of the bridge could be seen down stream.
Just past this last creek crossing, we came to backcountry campsite 12. If you were backpacking and forgot your stove, have no worries. There was a collection of old cans suitable for alcohol stoves left at the campsite marker. This campsite looked like it could accommodate 4-6 tents in its upper and lower sections. The upper section was much more appealing than the lower section.
After the third creek crossing the trail narrows and begins a more noticeable uphill grade. For the next three miles it was a steady climb, but not horribly steep. We plodded along, stopping for breaks occasionally and to take in what little views we could get through the trees.
Somewhere about a mile from the top is where we found the buck. He was happy as a lark grazing in the middle of the trail. He noticed us right away, but apparently felt we weren’t a threat. He continued to nibble away at the grass along the edge of the trail until he slowing wandered off into the woods. It’s always thrilling to see wildlife up close doing their wildlife thing. This was the highlight of our day.
Gregory Ridge Trail ends at the junction with Gregory Bald Trail. At the junction, Gregory Bald Trail goes left for 2 miles and ends at the Appalachian Trail or it goes right for six-tenths of a mile to Gregory Bald. The Bald was our destination for lunch.
The views were not outstanding off the Bald because of the haze, but we could see Cades Cove and we found a place to sit with that view for lunch. The big draw for hikers to the Bald are the flame azalea in June. Of course, that all gone now, but the blueberries were just coming on. In another couple weeks we could probably fight the bears for a share. At 5000 feet, the temperature was not uncomfortable on the Bald, but the sun was beaming down so we didn’t linger very long. After about 20 minutes we were ready to find some shade.
If we had continued on Gregory Bald Trail and gone on over the Bald, we would have shortly come to the junction with Wolf Ridge Trail. It is possible to make a loop hike using Gregory Bald, Wolf Ridge, Twentymile Loop and Long Hungry Ridge Trails and this was one of the backpacking trips the ladies had planned. However, there has been severe storm damage along Wolf Ridge and Twentymile Loop Trails making them almost impassable. Will save that for another time.
Gene is an old hiker and has been hiking the Smokies for many years. In times past, there were more shelters in the backcountry than there are now. He remembered there being a shelter somewhere between Gregory Bald and the trail junction at Rich Gap. He wanted to find the site of that old shelter. Luckily, there was a sign prohibiting horse travel on a very faint trail about halfway between the Bald and the trail junction. He took a chance and followed that little used trail. I stayed behind on the main trail. It seemed a lot less snaky. He found the site of the old shelter. All evidence of the shelter was gone, but the piped spring was still there and flowing with water.
With lunch and the exploring done, we were ready to head back down the mountain. The trip down was uneventful, but seemed like it was about twice as long as the uphill climb. We stopped at campsite 12 for a break and were grateful for the more gentle grade of the last two miles. The car was a welcome site, not only for it seat, but also for its air conditioning.
I’m not ready to declare this the finest hike in the Smokies, but it sure ranks up there close to the top. We already have this hike on our list for winter. It was obvious there are some incredible views from the trail if you didn’t have to look around the leaves.
That’s it for today. Thanks for tagging along.