18 April 2014


Disclaimer: I took well over 100 pictures on this overnite backpack so expect to see numerous wildflower photos!

Last year was my first time experiencing the diversity of wildflowers in the Smokies but I spent the majority of my time at White Oak Sinks & Chestnut Top. Many hikers & friends had extolled the virtues of Porters Creek, but the only time I hiked that trail was in the summer, well past wildflower time. This year was different. Sooooo different! It's always a gamble on when will be the best time for wildflowers. The 2nd week of April is usually a good bet, but you just never know. And since campsites in the Park are now on a reservation system, you have to get  them early & just hope for the best. Brian was able to get all 8 spots in campsite 31 for the weekend of April 12th so I was hopeful that all the snow this winter would produce exceptional flowers. I had been long attempting to backpack with  my friend & co-worker Alice & it just so happened that she & her fella John were available & ready to hit the trail. In the meantime, we were able to put together a full group after a post on the GSHAG site!

On the day of we had perfect weather-sunny & warm - which meant that everyone & their house cat was out for the day!  Lots of traffic..Sigh... After a (normal for me) late arrival at the trailhead, we assembled our group & headed up the trail, which is actually a road at this point. We did not have to go far before we starting seeing signs of the old Porters Creek community  - mainly rock walls outlining the old farmsteads. A well defined path led to the Owenby cemetery, which has at least a couple dozen gravestones. I always wonder how hard life was back then in these hollows. It's a little sad to see the infant mortality rate as evidenced by the markers. 

Another path led to the remnants of some sort of automobile:

It's pretty cool how the remains are laid out in some sort of semblance of the original vehicle.  Good thing or I would not have recognized it!

About a mile in we came to the big turnaround & walked over to the barn & cabin. I love the cantilevered barn! 

The sign in front calls it the John Messer barn although it was actually built around 1875 by John Whaley (apparently Messer owned the barn when the federal government bought the property to create the Park in the 1930s). 

Not far from the barn is a log cabin that was built by the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club in 1936. It was constructed around the old chimney from the original John Whaley cabin & club members were allowed to use it as an overnight facility until the early 1980s.

Once past the turnaround the trail turned into more of a singletrack & we really started to get into the flowers! My personal favorites - spring beauty, trillium, & star chickweed !


A little further we came to a single log footbridge that has to be one of the longest in the Smokies. It doesn't help that at the highest point over the creek the handrail is at the lowest position! Makes it very interesting with a full pack.

Right after this footbridge was when the rest of the group lost Alice & myself - there were so many flowers that I could literally not walk 5 feet without feeling compelled to snap another picture! We came around a corner to a field of white "snow" of fringed phacelia. The smell was wonderful & the bees were....well.....busy!

A little more than halfway in is Fern Branch Falls - a 40 ft waterslide surrounded by ferns & moss. These falls are also prime habitat for a species of "walking fern", so named because the new plantlets sprout anywhere the fronds of the parent touch the ground, creating the effect of the fern walking across the ground.

After a break to cool down in the mist from the falls & explore the rockfield below, we set off for the campsite. I was completely surprised at how warm it was, but the attraction of the wildflowers kept my pace slow enough to not break too much of a sweat!

After we made it to Site #31 I put the few brews I had brought along in the creek to cool while setting up camp. I think the site is rather large for a maximum of 8 people, as there are 3 distinct sites with fire rings, but it did allow us room to spread out a little. As well as having plenty of nice trees for our hammock backpacker! Once camp was set up it was time to cool our feet in the creek & enjoy the ice cold IPA's I had carried in!
Nothing lifts the spirits like cold toes & brews!

Mother Natures fridge!

After "happy hour" we had a little more exploring to do. There is an off-trail (non maintained) that leads from Campsite #31 to Charlies Bunion on the AT. The beginning is rumored to not be very hard, but the last piece up to the AT is a bit of a scramble. I have not attempted this hike yet, although I hope to later this year.

Located near where it "starts" , or splits off from Porters Creek Trail, are the remains of what may have been an old still. There are old pipes, various metal components & a coiled waterline in a barrel. At any rate it is close to a water supply & well hidden from revenuers!

The rest of the evening was spent doing normal backpacking chores - cooking, eating, cleaning up. I think I am often drawn to backpacking because of the way it breaks it down to the bare essentials: food & shelter! Of course, I say that when I am snugged up in my Marmot down sleeping bag after cooking on a canister stove, but you know what I mean..... It was a fun nite sitting around the fire, lots of laughs!

The next day out we again took our time, seeing the flowers & sights we had missed the previous day. Some wildflowers, most notably the dwarf crested iris, had been quite busy overnight. While there was no sign of buds going in the day before, a few were quite showy by the time we made it out. So now, if you have had enough of wildflowers, you can stop here. Otherwise, enjoy my gallery:

Dwarf Ginseng

Yellow Root

Trout Lily


Longspur Violet

Yellow Trillium

Fringed Phacelia

Dwarf Crested Iris

I never have any fun!
Brian on trail

Can't wait to do it again!

No comments:

Post a Comment