Showing posts with label GSMNP. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GSMNP. Show all posts

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, January 1, 2018

Gregory Bald

Great Smoky Mountains NP
Twentymile Station Trailhead
12/28 - 12/29/17
2017 bag nights: 32

I had a couple nights to recover from the holidays and the weather forecast looked close to perfect (sunny and 30s during the day and partly cloudy and 20s at night) in the higher elevation of the Smokies. I have wanted to check out Gregory Bald for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

I started at Twentymile ranger station and headed up the Twentymile trail to the Wolf Ridge Trail and then the steep climb (about 3000 elevation gain over about 6 miles) to Parson and Gregory Bald. My goal was to set up camp and then catch the sunset on Gregory Bald, since I started hiking a little before 1pm, I did not have a lot of time.

Both the Twentymile and Wolf Ridge Trails parallel creeks which makes for nice walking when there are bridges and cold wet feet when you have to ford the creek.

As I got to about 4000 feet snow began to appear on the ground, not very much, but enough to chill my feet.

I got to Site 13 in between Parson and Gregory Balds and set up camp then headed to Gregory Bald for the sunset.

Looking down on Cades Cove

Even without many clouds it was a beautiful sunset. The stars were going to be out tonight, but so was a 1st quarter moon right in the middle of the sky.

Panorama (5 shots stitched)

Gregory Bald in the morning, sadly I could not feel my feet at this point and had to keep moving to stay warm.

A little bit of snow as the trail drops off of the Bald

My feet were cold enough that I still couldn't feel my toes. As I hiked towards the AT I decided that I would make a decision at the next intersection. If I still couldn't feel my feet after hiking more than a mile then I would drop off the ridge on the Long Hungry Ridge Trail and would think about camping at a lower site. Well I got the the Long Hungry Ridge Trail and still had frozen feet, so down I went.

The trail is an old railroad bed, pretty obvious on this long straight stretch, and makes for easy hiking.

The only problem with the trail is there are a number of fords to deal with lower down. I was able to rock hop across the first couple fords, but then I came to a couple that I had to wade through. My feet had finally warmed up, but now they were soaked. When I got to the next campsite, it was only noon and I did not have a book to read( I have the Kindle app on my phone, but I don't like to read for a long time that way). I decided that I could be at the car around 2 and home before my kids went to bed, so I kept going.

About a half mile from the trailhead is the Twentymile Cascade, not one of the best waterfalls, but nice.

This trip ended up not working the way I planned. The main problem was cold feet. I realized that I did not have bread bags for my feet which meant that once my feet got cold, I had a hard time warming them up. I also should have packed an extra pair of hiking socks. And lastly, I should have packed a book instead of just my phone to make it easier to kill time. Basically this trip failed because I did not transition from fall to winter backpacking. Oh well, lesson learned.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Abrams Creek (GSMNP)

8/3 - 8/6/17 (3 nights)
Abrams Creek Campground
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
2017 bag nights: 24

I took my 3 kids to Abrams Creek Campground in the Smokies to meet a friend for a little bit of relaxing and splashing/tubing in the river. My oldest and I had passed through the campground last summer and we both thought it looked like a good place to return.

We got there on Thursday and had no problem getting two sites on the creek, showing up on Saturday would have been a problem. We mostly just splashed in the creek the first day.

The second day we drove up to Look Rock to check out the view.

We got back and the kids played some more in the creek before it started to pour. We had strung a big blue tarp so we had no problem staying dry and it lasted less than an hour.

The next morning the kids practiced their fire starting skills, they had a head start with all of the hot coals from the night before. Then a short hike and more playing in the water.

The last morning, another small fire and packing up.

Abrams Creek Campground is in a great location, but the sites are too close together and there are no trees separating the sites. It would probably be fine in the middle of the week, but it is too crowded on a nice weekend. If I go back, it would be show up on Mon/Tues and leave on Thur/Fri.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Waterfalls and wildflowers

6/6 - 6/7/17 (1 night)
Elkmont/ Jakes Creek Trailhead, GSMNP
2017 bag nights: 8

Jakes Creek => Panther Creek => Middle Prong => Lynn Camp Prong => Miry Ridge => Jakes Creek
Campsite #28

I headed to the Smokies to see the synchronous fireflies and to do a little hiking and see/photograph a couple of waterfalls.

I headed up the Jakes Creek and realized that I should have looked at the map a little closer. It was pretty obvious that this was going to be a steep climb and it was warm. I probably should have gone a little slower because I was soaked by the time I got to Jakes Gap (about 2000 feet higher). As I got close to the top of the climb, I heard a crash off to the side and looked up in time to see the back of a bear cruising downhill. I really wish they would pause long enough for a picture before they ran, but they always seem to run the minute they notice me. I guess that is a good thing.

The Jakes Gap trail has lots of little water crossings, but it is easy to keep your shoes dry. There is a nice little waterfall just off the trail.

The Panther Creek trail is wet and towards the bottom, it is impossible to find a dry crossing. There was no point in trying to stay dry since I knew I had to ford the Middle Prong. The map has a high water caution, but even with the recent rain, it was easy to cross, the water in the deepest part never got to the bottom of my shorts.

No picture of the ford at Middle Prong, but here is one of many creek crossings on the Panther Creek Trail.

Then up the Middle Prong trail to find the Indian Flats waterfall. It is an awesome waterfall with 3 distinct levels. It would be neat to be able to see the whole thing at once, but the layers stretch down the hill making that impossible.

The top layer of the falls is easy to get to and worth the little scramble

The middle layer takes a little more work to get to, but is worth it

The bottom layer involved some climbing over and under bushes (rhododendron and laurel), but was not too bad.  It looks like the creek bed flattens out here, so I did not try to get lower.

Then on the Lynn Camp Prong Trail and towards campsite #28. I got there about 6:30 and there were three guys there cooking their dinners. I found a place to hang my hammock and chatted with them a bit. They had know each other since kindergarten and were in their 60's. One of them had biked from Montana to Alaska and had also done a 25 day trip down the Grand Canyon in December. Nice to chat with, but I probably would have preferred to be by myself.

When I got up to hang my hammock and get ready for bed, I noticed my right ankle was stiff/sore, a little weird since it is my left ankle that has been bothering me and I did not remember doing anything to it. In retrospect, I should have soaked it in the cold creek water while I ate dinner.

I got my hammock setup and read for a bit. The little bit of sunset though the trees looked nice, I'll bet it was a good night to be up high on a ridge.

I got up in the middle of the night to water the bushes and saw a couple fireflies that appeared to be synchronized, but there weren't many so I did not stay up.

I woke up in the morning to a beautiful day and a really sore ankle. The Lynn Camp Prong Trail climbs steadily towards Miry Ridge, but it is an easy hike even with a sore/inflamed ankle.

At this point, I was wondering if I should head back to the car or continue on to night 2 and the fireflies. I knew I could make it up the Little River, but I was worried about injuring my ankle since we were heading to Banff the next week and I was planning on a lot of hiking there. I decided to see what happened over the next couple of hours since there was no need to decide until I got a lot closer to Elkmont.

I had an early lunch at the intersection of Miry Ridge Trail and Lynn Prong Trail and talked to a couple day hikers that had started in Elkmont and were heading to Clingman's Dome. And then, down the Mirt Ridge Trail.

There is a part of the Miry Ridge Trail that is sunny and had lots of Mountain Laurel blooming. I spent a bit of time with my camera here.

A couple of Azaleas were still blooming.

I think this is Black Snakeroot

I got to the intersection of Miry Ridge and Jakes Creek trails and headed down the hill towards Elkmont. My ankle was bothering me enough that I was pretty sure I was going to head to the car when decision time came. There were quite a few day hikers on the Jakes Creek Trail as I got closer to Elkmont. I stopped at one point to soak my ankle and see if that helped. It definitely helped, but starting downhill again it was obvious that I should call it a day if I did not want to ruin the hiking in Banff. So, decision made, I made my way to the car. 

I stopped for a late lunch at Burger Master in Townsend and then headed home. A good trip, got to see a different part of the park, and the fireflies will be there next year.