Showing posts with label bear. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bear. Show all posts

Saturday, September 9, 2017

O&W Trail

Big South Fork (TN)
9/2 - 9/4/17 (2 nights)
2017 bag nights: 26
Miles hiked: ~30
Animals: 1 bear, 1 snake and what felt like 1 million horses and riders and I'm pretty sure I saw a cougar aka mountain lion
Trailhead: Leatherwood Ford

I had been planning on a three night backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend since there was no soccer and then the remnants of Hurricane Harvey came through the southeast and ruined those plans. The weather forecast ended up improving for Sunday and Monday and my wife said go, so I went.

I've been curious about the O&W Trail in Big South Fork for a couple of years so I decided that would be a good place to go.

It was supposed to rain most of Saturday but stop around 5, so I was in no hurry to get to the trailhead. The forecast was right, the rain finished up about 4, I headed down the trail at exactly 5. I planned on hiking for a couple hours and see what happened.

It was pretty wet and gray, so I did not take many photos the first day.





 The O&W railroad bridge

View from the bridge

The O&W road ends at White Oak Creek, the trail is on the other side. The water was up to my shorts and was moving pretty quickly, I almost fell at one point, but caught myself on a rock just below the surface and only ended up with one shoulder getting wet. 


About 7 I found a good site to hang my hammock with a nice view of the creek.
Not a bad place to enjoy dinner and a little bourbon

Home for the night

I woke to a gorgeous day, took my time with breakfast and packing up and then headed down the trail. Parts of the trail were great, it is an old railroad bed, so easy walking next to a bubbling creek ...

... and parts of the trails are a giant mud pit. I was puzzled why I was seeing so many horse prints over on the far side of the trail. I know why my wife wants to walk around the mud, but I could not figure out why a horseback rider would try to keep the horse from getting muddy. Later in the day, a woman said, as she was forced to ride her horse in the middle of the mud to go around me, "my horse doesn't like getting his feet wet" :o What the hell? I wanted to tell her that she need to train her horse better, not to mention the trail she was riding had many creek crossings. So now I have another reason to hate horseback riders, first the garbage and second, destroying trails. 

 Fungus covered tree

The trail parallels the creek, when it was a mudpit, it was great hiking.



 The trail goes through a couple creeks, not very deep, easy to cross. but my feet and shoes never dried

White Oak Creek

My plan was to walk to Zenith (one of the old stops on the rail line) about 6 miles down the trail and then turn around and climb up to the East Laurel Overlook. I was hoping there would be a place to hang a hammock and then I could do some astro-photography.

A nice place for lunch. The concrete in the water is the ford at Zenith.


Cool fungus

As I got to the top of the ridge, 6 people were getting off horses to walk out to the overlook. Since I was not on a horse, it was like I was invisible. I enjoyed the view for a bit and then as I put my pack on, they decided that they were done as well. I thought about dropping my pack and hanging out since they were leaving, but it was pretty warm in the sun.

View from East Laurel Overlook


Cool rockhouse below the overlook



I then headed towards the Leatherwood Overlook.

There is a very large clearing on top of the ridge, I suspect the park service mows it for hunting. From the map, I thought the path to the overlook should be at the top of the trail, i.e. through the clearing. But, after following the jeep trail for a bit and checking my location on gps, it was obvious I was on the wrong path. So I turned around and headed back to the obvious trail.

About 20 minutes after I took this photo, I spooked a bear.


It turned out the Nat Geo map was a little misleading, but I eventually found the trail to the overlook. The trail is actually a pretty good gravel road, so I got worried about other people (idiots) being out there. A father and son passed me in a pickup and there were a couple people camping in the trees, but at the end of the road, there was no one.

View from the Overlook, looking down at Leatherwood Ford (bridge in the distance).

There was no where at the overlook to hang a hammock, so I headed back up the trail to the end of the road.

Dinner, bourbon and a nice sunset.

The road passes through another large mowed area, so I was hopefully that I would get lots of stars. I had forgot about the moon...

... almost full moon rising to ruin my planned star photos

I took a couple photos while waiting for it to get dark. I realized that the moon was sitting right over the Milky Way, so that was out, but maybe a nice polar star trails with the moon lighting up the foreground.

 Big Dipper

I noticed that the photos were a little blurry, but I did not think it was a focus issue. I pointed at the moon and got this, the lens was covered in dew. I took this as a sign and went to bed :)

I woke up the next morning at exactly 7 and realized that I had time to walk the 1/2 mile back to the overlook for sunrise.

While waiting for my water to heat up, I took a bunch of photos for panoramas





After hanging out for about an hour, I headed back to pack up



Another beautiful day for hiking

As I was walking along the O&W trail, I heard a slight splash and I looked over expecting to see a deer. It was deer colored and deer sized, but then I saw a very obvious cat shaped head and a cat length tail. It jumped up out of the creek bed and disappeared into the trees on the far side of the creek. My first thought was cougar, but then realized they aren't in the SE, so I thought bobcat. But, then I realized the tail was too long and it was pretty big (deer sized) for a bobcat. After getting home I looked online and there are confirmed sightings of cougars in TN (near Nashville). Given that, I'm pretty sure it was a cougar.

View from the O&W bridge, a lot more clear today

The rapids under the bridge

The whole morning, I was thinking how great it was to have not seen any snakes. About 2 miles from my car I saw this. It was going right across the trail and I noticed it when I was about 10 feet away, so it did not startle me.


I still hate snakes. 

Got back to the car about 1, changed into dry clothes, had a beer and got on the road. The drive took a lot longer than it should have since a boat trailer overturned on I-75 and the north bound lanes were shut for a couple of hours. Other than that, the whole trip was great. But, I'm not sure I will go back to the O&W trail, there are just too many horses and riders.

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.