Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dayhike at Ravens Run

January 24, Saturday
Woke up to a couple inches of snow and lots of sunshine, decided to check out Ravens Run.

I was surprised that there were about 5 cars in the parking lot, I figured most people would be avoiding the snow and mud. Did about 5 miles around the "outside" trails, saw a couple people and lots of mud.

January in the Smokies

With everyone but me heading to Florida, I decided to take advantage of the ridiculously nice weather we have been having in the Southeast. I also thought that this would be the perfect time to see some of the more "touristy" places in the smokies since there are so many fewer people there in the winter. Not to mention, there were not likely to be many hikers at the AT shelters.

I decided to start out at Newfound Gap and hike up the AT to Clingman's Dome (hoping that no one would be there since the road is closed in the winter). Then, continue on the AT to Gregory Bald, then down towards Shuckstack, across the Lakeshore trail and then up Hazel Creek and back to the car. I planned out a 6 night trip that I thought would be doable (~12 miles a day) with the big climb at the end when most of my food would be gone.

Day 1 - Newfound Gap to Double Spring shelter (~11 miles)
I got to the parking lot around noon, the weather was perfect for hiking, right around 50 degrees and sunny. The forecast was for this to continue for the next 3 days. Then the possibility of rain and cooler temperatures for the last couple of day.

I quickly headed up the AT towards Clingman's Dome. The trail was pretty easy for the first couple of miles, it climbed continuously, but was in good shape. Even with the leaves off of most of the trees, there weren't any good views, just glimpses through the trees. As I got closer to the top, the trail was very icy in parts, if I had been going down, I would have put on my traction devices, going up, I was careful and it was not too much trouble. I got to the top after ~8 miles and 1500' of elevation gained. I went up the ramp of the "UFO" and was hammered by what felt like 50 mile per hours gusts. Even with the temperature and sunshine, it was too cold to linger.

There were a lot more views on the way down

I got to Double Spring Gap around 4:30, got water, cooked dinner and watched the stars come out. I was even able to spot Comet Lovejoy with my tiny $15 monocular, I think I was even able to see the tail (it seemed to be pointing in the right direction). The wind began to pick up and I decided that 9:00 was a good bedtime, managed to read for about 10 minutes before falling asleep. Unfortunately, the wind kept going through most of the night which kept me awake. When it finally died down sometime after midnight, I got woken up by something moving around in the dark. When I stuck my head out, there was a deer looking for food right by the shelter, there was another deer in camp in the morning.

Day 2 - Double Spring shelter to Spence Field shelter (~13.5 miles)

After a very leisurely breakfast and a stop at the privy (note the ADA complient wheelchair handle), I hit the trail.

The first couple of miles were very easy with lots of views and perfect weather.There were patches of snow on the ground, but nothing problematic.

Then over Siler's Bald, that's Mount LeConte in the middle of the picture.

I had a quick lunch at the Derrick Knob shelter with a couple of dayhikers from Knoxville. They were going to do about 16 miles from Cades Cove up to the ridge and back down. By this point (~6 miles) I was starting to wonder if I had been a little too ambitious in my planning. Once again, I could feel my bad knee starting to act up, the steep downhill parts were not good. I continued on to Thunderhead and Rocky Top. By the time I got there it was about 4 and starting to cool off a bit. I lingered a little, enjoying to view, but I need to move down the trail so I would not be stumbling around in the dark.

I made it to the Spence Field shelter and went to find water. The spring was a muddy little trickle that could really use a pipe. I managed to avoid most of the mud/dirt and set up camp and made dinner. While I was eating (after dark), I heard something moving around off in the bushes, even with my headlamp, it was hard to tell what they were, could have been bears, but probably were hogs. I tossed a couple of rocks and they disappeared down the hill. Another early bedtime and another night's sleep disturbed by animals. First, it was the coyotes yelling and then a couple of hogs passed near enough that I heard them grunt.

Day 3 - Spence Field to Gregory Bald

Woke up to an overcast day that made me a little nervous, the weather was supposed to be good for at least one more day. While I was eating breakfast, the sun broke through and by the time I hit the trail, the clouds were mostly gone. But, I had another problem. It was obvious that my knee was not better after a night's rest. I made it about .25 miles up the trail before I realized that I was going to have problems finishing this trip. I decided to cut things short and head back to the car, but to take it slow and stop for the night at Derrick Knob (~7 miles)

This ended up being a good decision because I had to go back over Thunderhead and Rocky Top but I was in no hurry so I could enjoy it a little more.

I found a great view and a fire ring (illegal campsite) just off the trail near the Jenkins Ridge intersection.

 Then on to Rocky Top

Got to Derrick Knob around 3 and screwed around a little. Another backpacker came up, a little surprised to see me since no one had reservations for that shelter. I apologized for crashing his solitude and explained my knee. We talked for a bit while eating and then over cocktails. He is one of the people who have decided to hike every trail in the park, he is right around 500 miles out of a total of ~900 miles. And then another great sunset and an early night.

Day 4 - Derrick Knob to Double Springs

Woke up and had another slow breakfast, only going to do about 7 miles today. Weather is a lot cooler and completely overcast, unfortunately, the sun does not make an appearance today.

Easy walking, lots more ridge views

The next thing I knew, I was at Double Springs Gap and it was only 2pm. I was feeling pretty good at this point and the weather was making me nervous. The last thing I wanted was to hike out in rain/ice/snow and find that the road at Newfound Gap was covered in ice. I was able to get a cell signal and the weather said rain in Gatlinburg starting in the morning, given that Gatlinburg is 3000 ft. lower than the Gap, I figured there was a good chance of being stuck in the parking lot if I waited until morning to hike out.

So, I got some more water, had a snack and was down the trail. I knew that it would be dark by the time I got to the gap but I planned on hiking down the closed Clingman's Dome road. I figured that would not be a problem with a headlamp.

More good views along the way and on top of the UFO

Then about 8 miles down the road to the parking lot. On benefit of the road walk was I could really look around and enjoy the view. It was similar to what I had already seen, but it was nice to walk and not have to watch for roots, rocks and ice on the trail. I passed a couple frozen "waterfalls" along the way.

About 2 miles down, I caught up with a couple of dayhikers. They had come up the AT from the gap and were returning by way of the road. They started around 9, took them 6 hours to get to the Dome and then a long road walk back to the car. I walked and talked with them for a little bit but there was a cheeseburger and a beer calling my name and they were not able to keep my pace. I ended up back at the car at 6:30, never needed my headlamp, but it was getting dark. I hope the dayhikers made it out ok. Drove down the road to Cherokee to find a hotel and food. An added benefit of leaving the trail early, I was able to drive into Asheville to get some beer. Spent way too much money at Asheville Vinters, then had an easy drive back home.

In retrospect, I think that I could probably have done my original trip. I think that my knee was bothering me so much because I had forgot to take a couple advils. But, given the weather, I am glad that I cut things short. It would have sucked coming up Hazel Creek with lots of snow and ice and the road at Newfound Gap would have been in terrible condition. My one takeaway from this trip, I need to do more squats to strengthen my knees.

the day after xmas

With the in-laws in town for the holiday and a nice weather forecast, I was given permission to spend the night in the Gorge. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore some of the unofficial trails mentioned in Goodpaster's book "Hinterlands", I also realized that I had not been to Grays Arch in a long time. So, with a part of the Gorge picked, I found a couple unofficial trails in the area as well as a promising place to set up camp.

I started at the Grays Arch parking area and headed out towards the Rough Trail and the "Classic Crag Overlook", the "Left Flank Highride" and the "Whatchamacallit" trails. All three side-trails look out over the valley towards Ravens Rock.

Down one of those trails was an interesting rock formation.

I then got back on the Rough Trail and headed towards Grays Arch. I had forgotten how big it was.

Note the people below the arch.

I then headed down the Rough Trail and up and over Rush Ridge, then out the "Veranda" trail overlooking Pinch-em Tight Ridge.

After enjoying the view, I headed further down the Rough Trail to Rush Branch where I filled up on water for the night's camp up on Hanson's Point. I was hopeful that I would be the only one there since everyone should be home with their families :) Alas, there were two groups of campers already set up. This was not a problem, since the area was large enough for me to find a place to set up my hammock. The sunset was great and then I used an existing fire ring and stared at the "TV" until bedtime.

Woke to a nice sunrise

and then a short walk out to the end of Hanson's Point. You can just see Chimney Top Rock in the first picture.

After this, I headed down the Rough Trail to the Sheltowee Trace to explore potential kid friendly campsites for this summer. Then, up and over Koomer Ridge to the Buck Trail, then Pinch-em tight trail and back to the car where I had a Sierra Nevada Celebration waiting for me. All in all, a great 26 hours in the Gorge.