25 December 2013

Searching for a pile of rocks.... Part 1!

That was definitely the theme of the day for a couple of nice hikes earlier this month...

The quest was actually started on a cold, rainy Saturday when I accompanied Brian to scout out a hike he was planning in January for the Smoky Mtn Hiking Club.  We were searching for Courthouse Rock & Quilliam Cave in GSMNP. I was somewhat surprised that this off trail was not listed in Kenneth Wise's "Hiking Trails of the Great Smoky Mountains" as I have found that book an indispensable guide. (Note: If you have a copy don't even lend it out - it is nearly impossible to find anymore!) Regardless, Brian had been once before & we look forward to any excuse to wander in the woods so off we went....

We found the correct pull-off quite easily & a well trod path led up to the old roadbed in the woods. Which way - north or south? When in doubt, always head uphill (because it's never the easy path, right?). So we did. Now it got fun as there were so many trails heading off the old road to choose from. We started up one that quickly faded out & backtracked to try again. Next trail was more defined & we contoured around past an old homesite that was pretty cool. We had a couple of easy creek crossings & dropped onto a very well defined trail that (you guessed it!) led upwards.

Brian negotiating one of the crossings



We soon came to another old homesite that Brian remembered as belonging to the father, Joe Quilliam. Once again there were numerous trails heading in all directions! We visited a super-cool waterfall that was the water source for the family. Originally called Quilliams Creek, this large creek is now known as Road Turn Branch.

We then followed the trail behind the old chimney as that was the one that should take us to Courthouse Rock & the cave. We found a side trail going to an overlook that would likely have great views if it was not so misty & rainy. We continued onward & upward & soon crossed the creek only to lose the main trail. After climbing over trees & sliding around in the mud for a while, we decided to head back down to try again another day when visibility was a little better. Following the trail back we mentally marked where it split off the old roadbed. I was surprised at how well hidden it was - maybe an attempt to keep it not too easily accessible?

Despite the lack of views, I still saw a few cool things:

Stay tuned for Part 2 - when we actually make it!

09 December 2013

Slicker than cat shit on linoleum!

Or maybe the better title is "Don't bring old hiking boots to a snowy hike"?

As I am typing this I have a big ol' fire roaring in the woodstove to dry out my boots so I can hopefully get enough Shoe Goo on them to survive some potential water crossings for a Wednesday birthday hike. I am a big fan of Hi Tech as I can usually take them right out the box & hit the trail with little to no break in but they just don't seem to last. This pair is only a little over a year old & the rubber on the toe is separating just enough to let water/snow in, as I found out this past Black Friday.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a great White Friday over in the Smokies.

After being snowed in for a couple of days & overeating in the American tradition, I was more than ready to get out & get some new miles. The original plan was to hit Clingmans Dome (since the road closes for winter each December this would be the last chance) & get in a good downhill hike & hopefully see some snow. The problem was the huge amount of snow & ice was causing road closures everywhere in the Park... Not to mention my steep driveway was a solid sheet of ice & I was not sure of the new Element's ability to skate down it yet! I met my hiking buddy Harold at Sugarlands mid morning to work out a plan of attack - both of us hoping the roads would be open by the time we got there. They were, but when we checked with Backcountry they said there was 8-12" of snow at Clingmans & Harold had forgotten his gaiters. Everything happens for a reason, so we decided to hike Jakes Creek-Meigs Mtn-Lumber Ridge. The way this hike really worked out was as I was leaving the Park Service was closing Hwy 441, which would have meant if we had done Clingmans down one of our vehicle would have been locked behind the gate!

We started out from Elkmont at Jakes Creek & I was surprised at the number of people out, although it was quite a pretty day. The snow was not very deep & we followed footprints for a while.  Once we made it past the intersection to Meigs Mtn Trail Harold noticed we were making the only human footprints on the trail, but there were plenty of other tracks. Some decidedly looked like bear, but I am not sure if it was a few bears or just one bear crossing the trail several times! We noticed some tracks followed the trail continuously - a small cat or coyote?-and a lot of sign of boar.

The trail was just beautiful! 

When we made it to the intersection of Curry Mtn trail I was surprised to see people! I quickly found out why as the Huskey cemetery was very close & is apparently a destination. The light & shadows were very nice on the snow:

As soon as we were past the cemetery we lost "human" tracks again until we came to the intersection with Meigs Creek trail. We stopped for a snack & noticed many footprints heading down a track across from the trail. There was no trail shown on either the $1 map or the National Geo, but we decided there were too many prints heading down in the new snow so there had to be something good down there. And now we finally get to the title of this post. The "trail" heading down was super steep & a good mix of mud & snow/slush. As I finally made it to the bottom after self-arresting a few times with my trusty MSR Denali poles, I heard that awful sound behind me. The thud when someone behind you slides & falls. The moment you just cringe & wait to see if they take you out as well. Well, Harold didn't take me out, but he stood up & proclaimed "This hill is slicker than cat shit on linoleum" so we promptly named it Cat Shit Hill. I am pretty sure the name is not taken...

Ok, we staged this shot cuz I didn't take one going down,
but it's still funny!

We followed the trail down a long ways - far further than I expected - yet the foot tracks continued on. This is when I realized how much cold water was making it into my boots! We soon realized we were walking on an old railroad grade: a fact confirmed when we found a few sections of old rail. This "off trail" was not well maintained & we soon came to a crossing that we were not willing to cross. 

Trail? What trail?

Without knowing where or how far the trail went & because my feet were getting wetter & colder, we decided to wait for a better day to explore. (Note: Since then I found out this is the Spruce Flats manway with 3-4 water crossings that eventually ends at the small waterfall at Tremont - definitely will do this loop one day!)
Once we were on Lumber Ridge Trail we started experiencing a more southern aspect & pine forests with less snow. Walking on pine needles is much like walking on a shag carpet as far as I am concerned & I love it! I highly recommend this section of trail for families or someone wanting to experience a good trail without extreme climbs or descents. The trail just rolls along & there were some good winter views along the way.

Harold taking it all in.....

 We started the descent back down to Tremont & finished the day with daylight to spare. After a bit of a slippery trip back to Elkmont (the roads were starting to ice again) I picked the E back up for the trip back home.
Thinking I may have a new post Thanksgiving tradition.....


01 December 2013

How cold is too cold to hike?

Seems the answer for me is ...... NEVER! With a forecast high of a mere 20 degrees, why ever would I not jump at the chance to finally make it up to Gregory Bald in GSMNP? 

After a leisurely ride (i.e. it took more than ONE HOUR to get from the Townsend Y to Parsons Branch Road thru Cades Cove- have these people never seen a deer before?!) we finally  arrived at the trail head of Gregory Ridge at noon. The temperature gauge on the E showed a relatively balmy 24 degrees, so it was not a difficult decision to decide to wear many layers to start. I always struggle with finding a good balance to begin. Knowing the trail is lot of up-up-up (followed by yet more up!) I elected to begin with my favorite mid weight Smartwool stuff. Even that proved to be a little much & had to make a couple of stops to adjust. Gave me a good chance to catch a few good photo opps though. The hoarfrost was supercool....

After a few miles of climbing, we reached the intersection with Gregory Bald Trail & met a couple of backpackers on their way to the campsite on Gregory Bald. Although it is now 2 miles away, the Appalachian Trail used to cross Gregory Bald before eventually being rerouted & a shelter used to be located fairly near this intersection.Since Brian is so familiar with the area, he took us to the piped spring & the site of the former shelter, which is now primarily used as a campsite by NPS contract boar hunters. (Note: If you are staying at Campsite 13 this spring is much better than the one you will find there!)

We trekked a little further up to the bald & the  weather changed dramatically along the way. Despite the sunshine, the wind was wicked & the temperature dropped quickly.
Time for the down mittens & monkey fur hats!

Regardless, the cool, crisp air was great for views...

We did not linger too long up high due to the wind, but found a sheltered spot to grab a bit of lunch before heading back down. I was somewhat surprised that my Gatorade was more ice than liquid despite the high sodium content. Gatorade slushy anyone?

Knowing it would be a bit cooler heading back down, I donned my down mittens & settled into a good pace down. I felt it was still not quite cold enough for the down jacket as long as I had my windstopper fleece & that proved about right. There was still a surprising amount of snow on the ground.

We made it back down in good time & headed back out to battle the traffic on the Cove. A great hike & I cannot wait to go back & tackle the mountain from the other direction!