Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Forney and Hazel Creeks (GSMNP)

Great Smoky Mountains NP
Trailhead: Tunnel at the end of Road to Nowhere

3/12 - 3/16/18 (4 nights)
2018 bag nights: 5

Day 1 miles: 6.5
Day 2 miles: 10.75
Day 3 miles: 11.25
Day 4 miles: 18
Day 5 miles: 3
Total miles: 50 miles
Campsites: 70, 82, 81, 74

My planned trip was to start at the Tunnel at the end of the "Road to Nowhere" outside of Bryson City. Then Lakeshore Trail to White Branch Trail to Forney Creek Trail and site 70 for the first night. The 2nd day was Jonas Creek Trail to Welch Ridge Trail to Hazel Creek Trail and site 82 for the 2nd night. Day 3 was Hazel Creek Trail to Lakeshore Trail and site 81 for night 3. Day 4 was Lakeshore trail to site 98 and then day 5 Lakeshore trail to my car.

So I wake up Monday morning and I find that school is cancelled because of snow and I look out my window to this.

I spent about 45 minutes shoveling 6 inches of wet heavy snow so I could get the car out of the driveway. And then I was off to North Carolina.

Driving down I got a little nervous because it was still snowing near Knoxville and it was very windy, did not look like a great day for hiking. I was especially worried that the snow would turn to rain. Thankfully, by the time I got to Bryson City, the snow had stopped and the sky was clearing up.

The tunnel at the end of the "Road to Nowhere"

The Whiteoak Branch and the Forney Creek trails are next to the respective creeks which means lots of cascading water. I love hiking with the sounds of a creek next to me.

Bridge across Forney Creek at site 70. This was a great place to sit after dinner and watch the sky get dark. The bourbon was nice as well.

The first day was easy even with a full pack, 6ish mostly flat miles (or at least flat for the Smokies). The second day was going to be a lot harder. I knew that the Hazel Creek trail was going to involve a lot of creek crossings, but I thought that the first part of the day would be dry feet and a climb up and over Welch Ridge. It turns out that the Jonas Creek Trail has 5 or 6 crossings, the first about 15 minutes after leaving camp. I had my trail runners, so I just wade through, unlike the older couple I caught up to who were taking off their boots for every crossing. So, I had cold wet feet/shoes all day long instead of just in the afternoon.

The Jonas Creek trail is great, with all the wet feet, it is probably better in the summer, but it was very pretty in the early spring. The water was very cold though.

Got up to Welch Ridge and there was still a bit of snow on the ground which made my wet feet even colder. In places the snow was 3-4 inches deep.

And then down the Hazel Creek trail and out of the snow. The Hazel Creek trail has a lot of creek crossings, but I had been here before so wasn't surprised. This is one of about 20 crossings over 4ish miles, most of them are no more than knee deep, so not hard, just cold and just as your feet start to dry out and warm up, there is another crossing.

In other parts of the trail, the creek just flows down the trail. At least it was not muddy.

Got to site 82 about 4pm and got water and firewood and just relaxed, crawled into my hammock to read a bit and slept through the night. I woke up to this and the snow was still coming down. Since I wasn't in a huge hurry, I used my hiking poles to prop up the tarp and had a leisurely breakfast and watched the snow. When it became apparent that the snow was stopping, I packed up and headed down the trail.

The lower part of the Hazel Creek Trail is an old railroad bed, so it is very easy walking with a slight decline going towards the old town of Proctor. Nice walking and the snow stopped after about an hour. The day never warmed up though and I had my fleece on the whole day.

Hazel Creek starts to build up steam as it drops lower in the valley and more side streams combine.

Glad the crossings in this part have bridges.

Lower Hazel Creek

The only "hard" part of the day was the climb over Welch Ridge on the Lakeshore Trail, not really hard, but not easy like the Hazel Creek Trail.

I detoured to check out Fairview Cemetery which is not far off the trail. While there I heard a loud plane and looked up to see a C-130 flying low over the Fontana Lake, low like below the ridge line, I couldn't move quick enough to get a photo though. Kind of cool and confirms what I thought I heard in the middle of the night on a past trip in the area.

I got to site 81 which has easy access to Fontana Lake. I had deliberately planned the trip because the last couple nights were supposed to be clear and moonless and I wanted to see stars.

You can see how low the lake is this time of year. In a couple months, all of this will be under water.

I was disappointed by the amount of skyglow. I think that the lake must reflect a lot of light. It was cold enough that I did not spend a lot of time with my camera, but the stars were very pretty.

You can just make out Orion behind the trees on the right and the bright star near the middle is Sirius.

The next day I was hoping to check out some of the old cemeteries along the Lakeshore Trail. At one point, there was an obvious side trail and this tree. I suspect that someone bent this tree to mark the trail to the cemetery.

A couple minutes from the tree was two graves. One was marked "Infant Cook" and the other "Helen Cook, daughter of HB and Mac Cook". All of the cemeteries in this area are filled with young children which makes the father in me sad.

Just off the trail is the remains of an old car. That is the rear of the car and you can see where the spare tire would have been mounted, the bolts are still there. 

Old stone wall and the remains of a chimney

I got to site 98 about 4:00 and the wind was blowing right up the lake with gusts in the 30-40 MPH range. I decided that this did not look like a nice place to relax and looking at the map realized that I was about 7 miles from site 74 at Forney Creek. I had been there before and knew that I could get to the lake shore easily to see stars. And if I hiked the 7 miles today, I would have an easy 3 mile day back to my car. So, let's see if we can still do an 18 mile day.

The last hour was hard and I was regretting my decision, but I eventually reached site 74. No one was there which sort of surprised me. I set up camp and walked out to check out the lake and then had dinner. As I was finishing up, a solo hiker appeared. He mentioned a fire, I said I was planning on being lazy, but I would gather wood for a fire while he set up camp. We chatted a bit, but I was tired from my day and turned in early to read a little bit.

I woke up to a beautiful day and headed back to the lake after breakfast.

Forney Creek flowing towards the lake. The sun was just rising above the ridge on the left.

Cool looking rock in Forney Creek. All the other are brownish and then this glowing white one.

Sunburst over Forney Creek.

After photo time, I said goodbye to the other guy and packed up and had an easy hike to the car. I was glad that it was only 3 miles because my feet were a little sore from the previous couple of days. I got back to my car after an hour and regretted that I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes. All in all, a great trip, I got a physical/mental challenge on day 2 with creeks and snow, another challenge on day 4 with 18 miles, and mostly great weather and only a couple of other people.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Castle and Red Byrd Arches

Dayhike with a group of people from
Trailhead: Osbourne Bend at the concrete bridge.

The weather forecast was perfect for hiking, about 35 degrees at 9am climbing to about 50 degrees for the high.

We met at the trailhead and headed up the road to find a place to cross Swift Camp Creek into the Clifty Wilderness. And then find the user trail up to Castle Arch. Josh (who organized the trip) had been there before so it wasn't a problem. The climb up was a little steep and the mud was slippery from the recent rain, but it was easy and the payoff was great.

View from under Castle Arch

Looking back at Castle Arch.

We then proceeded overland towards an old fire road and then to Red Byrd Arch.

Along the way, we passed an old homestead with the remains of a chimney and a well and a bunch of daffodils. Spring has arrived in KY.

There were a number of depressions along the way that had eggs in them, either frog or salamander, not sure which.

It was a bit of a climb down to Red Byrd, but it was worth it. Very cool to see a small waterfall enter into the arch area.

Some of the people under Red Byrd.

Red Byrd Arch from the side.

It was a lot of work climbing over and under downed trees, but the payoff was worth it. It looks like the whole area around Red Byrd Arch would be fun to explore. I'll make it back someday.

Rough Trail

Dayhike in Red River Gorge
Trailhead: Rough Trail off KY 715

Once again we had beautiful weather forecast for the middle of the week, so once again I took advantage of work flexibility and headed to the Gorge. I decided to revisit part of the Rough Trail that I had not hiked in a couple years.

Nice pour-off waterfall just off the trail.

I wandered down Parched Corn Creek, but it was too cold for me to think about wading. I'll save that for summer. I then continued on toward Chimney Top Road.

I got up the road to Chimney Top and realized that I could continue down the trail to the Sheltowee Trace, but I would not have time to go much farther. So, I decided that I would hit a couple of the short trails on 715 to fill the time.

First stop Whistling Arch

Nice View from the overlook just past Whistling Arch

Then to Angel Windows.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Star Gap Arch

Martins Fork Trailhead to Star Gap Arch

The weather forecast said sunshine and highs in the mid-70s so time for a hike. I decided that Star Gap Arch was a good destination and if I had time, maybe Jailhouse Rock. Once again, I made the climb up from the trailhead and then out the ridge to Tunnel Ridge Road. I realized that I had never done this route in shorts before, my legs got a bit scraped up from the brambles.

View from above the Martins Fork Trailhead

A short walk along Tunnel Ridge Road

Star Gap Arch

I had a little more time, so I wandered further out the ridge and ended up looking down at the Nada Tunnel Road

My legs got a little beat up on the hike from Martins Fork, so I decided to hike the road back to Grays Arch trailhead and then down the D Boone Trail. Along the way, I ran into a couple young ladies walking their dogs and the some guys with the Forest Service marking the road for the regrading. The man in charge said the road is going to be shut for a little more time, so hopefully I can get at least one more hike in solitude before it opens up again.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Dayhike 2/9/18
Sheltowee Connector Trailhead
Red River Gorge

I decided that today would be a good day to check out Cloudsplitter. I've been hiking in the gorge to long to never have even hiked past it, not to mention climbed it. So I started at the Sheltowee Connector trailhead and headed north to the swinging bridge and the Sheltowee Trace.

On my way to Cloudsplitter, I checked out the Arch Nursery trail from Hinterlands. It is a short trail with a neat rock shelter that looks like it could end up as an arch in a couple more million years.

The rock shelter is really big, this is a pano from 7 individual photos

There was a lot of water pouring out of a large crack, it was hard to capture the water, but I did get the rainbow

Then up the trail, towards Cloudsplitter. I skipped the Nowhere trail with the idea I would catch it on the way back to the car. I found the trial to Cloudsplitter and made the scramble up to the real climb and I chickened out. The 20 foot smooth sandstone did not look like a good idea, especially since I was alone. I had lunch below Cloudsplitter and then followed the user trail up towards the ridge. It ended up circling around and connecting with the Nowhere trail 

I enjoyed the view of Cloudsplitter from the Nowhere trail

When I got back to the Sheltowee Trace, I still had a couple hours to hike, so I repeated my steps back towards Cloudsplitter and then continued past to check out Adena Arch and the view. 

Huge rockface, this is a vertical pano stitched from 5 photos

Looks like sea shells

Carrying out other people's beer cans is bad enough, but spray paint cans??? Come on!!!

In the end, I hiked about 10 miles and saw some new parts of the gorge. But, I am a little disappointed that I was not able to do the Cloudsplitter climb. I think it falls in the better safe than sorry category, maybe I'll be able to complete the climb some day.