Month: November 2011

Old Settlers Trail – 11-19/11-20

On November 19th, four of us set off for a weekend on Old Settlers Trail.  This trail follows a maze of old road beds through Big Greenbrier in the Smokies, which had a large population in the days predating the park.  This trail had tons of artifacts, home sites, and rock walls, which made for a perfect weekend of fall hiking.  

Our hike begins at the Maddron Bald Trailhead off of US-321.  With enough parking for barely one car we were glad we were the first ones there that morning.  The hike begins with a 1.2 mile gentle uphill on a gravel road.  Being that it was covered in wet leaves from the recent rains made it a bit tricky at times, however.  At 0.7 miles in, there is an old cabin built in 1889 still standing in a field off to the right of the trail.  We reached the trailhead quickly and began our walk down Old Settlers, now the path turning into a trail instead of a roadbed.  Almost immediately we were walking through old farm lands.  We crossed and small stream and saw an old chimney, now about half of its original size, and then came to a more difficult stream crossing, the first challenge of the day.  With some creative pack-tossing and rock-hopping, we were across and dry.  

After crossing Dunn Creek, we were greeted by a large rock wall running alongside the trail and then disappearing into the woods, the first of many we’d see this weekend.  We began our first climb up Snag Mountain and crossed a few streams, seeing impressive rock walls during the climb.  People truly look a lot of pride in their work so many years ago, as some of these walls were arrow straight and more than 5 feet tall in places.  

We saw many old home sites with impressive chimneys, one homesite with a double-sided one and a second chimney off to the side, on Texas Creek and we walked downhill stopped at a homesite on Noisy Creek for lunch.  From here, we’d have one good uphill push before going downhill into our campsite.  The last uphill was a little tricky and it was a good thing two people in our group had done this part of the trail numerous times, as the trail pretty much disappeared.  The part of the land that looked to be the trail was actually an old manway that ran out more than 0.5 miles to US-321. We blazed our way up the side of the hill, winding past another old chimney, up to the top.  From here, we’d have a nice downhill stroll into camp for the night.  

Campsite 33 is a very large site with an A, B, and C.  We chose to stay uphill from campsite C, which is the site of a chimney and a hearth.  Campsites A and B here have very large boulders.  All the campsites have great access to Red Wine Creek, our water source.  After gathering a large amount of firewood, we settled in camp for the night.  

The next day was a short six miles to the cars at the trailhead.  The six miles however, were slightly more difficult.  We’d have two good hills to climb on the way out, one winding back into the head of the valley.  We passed some beautiful fields and home sites, passed a few spurs for old cemeteries, and crossed more creeks and branches that I can recall.  We saw the first people we’d see all weekend about 30 minutes before getting off the trail.  We would have missed them had we not stopped to get a look at a homesite.  

We got off the trail just before noon on the 20th.  The weather was just perfect and there had been a warm breeze blowing all weekend.  This trail is definitely one I’d like to hike several more times, maybe a little off trail as well, just to get a better idea of the families and the history here. 

Little Greenbrier Trail 11-13-11

The weather wasn’t sunny on Sunday, but it didn’t rain, so David and I decided to do a short day hike to break in his new Leki Antishock poles I got him for his birthday last month.  We decided on Little Greenbrier Trail up to Laurel Falls Trail and back down.  An easy day hike, coming in at 8.6 miles and gaining 2000 feet.

This trailhead is just inside the Metcalf Bottoms area of the park with the parking area just inside the boundary line.  The trail itself skirts the boundary, so you’re in and out of the park several times during this hike.  The first 1.9 miles only gain about 400’ and afford some really nice views down into Wear Cove.  We passed a few boundary markers and weaved in and out of the park for a while before coming up to our first trailhead at Wear Gap.  From here, you can walk an easy 0.6 miles down to the Walker Sister’s Cabin or you can go straight up to the Laurel Falls Trail.  We took a short break and did just that.  Of note, there is also an unmaintained trail here that runs down into an old settlement called Buckeye Springs.  We’ll save that adventure for another day.  

The climb got a little steeper for this next section of trail, but the climb was never difficult.  Almost the entire way to the top we had views down into Wear Cove through the practically leaf-less trees.  We climbed a good switchback and were at the Laurel Falls Trail for a break and a snack.  We saw the only people we’d see all day shortly after arriving to the trailhead, wearing blue jeans and matching red athletic gear jackets and tennis shoes.  We had our snacks and began the downhill portion of our hike.  I got to take a nice trip, slipping and nearly falling down off the side of the trail, but it was good for a laugh.  We made it back down the hill, to the trailhead, and back to our car in less than 4 hours.  

It was definitely nice to do an easier trip with David.  His trekking poles worked great and he’s pretty much in love with them.  I highly recommend antishock poles if you’re in the market for some.  

Mt. Sterling Part 2, 11-5-11

I made my second trip up to the Mt. Sterling Fire Tower this year on another beautiful day. This time the trip would be a little longer, coming in at close to 20 miles.  Since this was the last day of Daylight Savings Time, I was up and on the road at 5:30 in the morning so we could start in time to not be pushing dark.  

The hike began at Pretty Hollow Gap Trail in Cataloochee.  On the way in to the trailhead, there were tons of elk in the fields, including a very large male with an impressive set of antlers.  The sun was just starting to shine in the valley with all the mist and fog, so it was truly an amazing site to see!  We started off up Pretty Hollow Gap Trail at 8:20 a.m. and in the first 0.8 miles didn’t gain much elevation.  We passed the horse camp at 0.2 miles and came to the Little Cataloochee Trail at mile 0.8.  The trail is still very much a wide road and gravel.  Horse poop is everywhere.  The large road continued upward to mile 1.6 where Palmer Creek Trail connects and goes to Balsam Mtn. Road.  Shortly ahead, campsite #39 had only one camper there for the night.  Who can blame people for not camping?  It was 28 degrees in Maggie Valley on Friday night!  Just past the campsite is where our real uphill began and continued on for about 6 more miles.  We crossed a few frozen foot logs, which were nice and slippery, and had a good creek crossing where my feet got a little wet.  The trail had narrowed considerably at this point to the size of a normal foot path and remained muddy and deeply trenched almost the entire way to the top.  Horse poop was everywhere as well.  When I hiked on the other side of Cataloochee in the early fall, we had remarked how we thought there’d be more mud.  I think we found it today!  

At about 10:45, we reached the top of this trail at Pretty Hollow Gap.  There was a lot of frost at the top of the hill and it was substantially cooler.  We took a short break and began the 1.4 miles left until we reached the fire tower.  Having hiked this portion of the trail previously, I knew what we were in for.  The trail wasn’t as steep as I had remembered and the climb up to the top went by quickly.  We were up to the tower in less than an hour and there was a huge group of people up there.  The views were just as stunning as before on this clear morning and it was a great time to take photos and take it all in.  We stayed at the top and had lunch before heading down the trail.  

Coming down Mount Sterling Trail was a little steeper than the route we’d climbed up on Pretty Hollow Gap.  The trail was rocky and covered with leaves, so you had to have careful footing, as well as keen eyes so not to step in horse poop.  The views all the way down the hill were amazing and elevation was lost rather quickly. There were only two switchbacks on this trail as well, so it was definitely nice to have the views in your line of site.  At 1:20, I reached the junction of Long Bunk Trail and waited on my friends.  Elise and Mary ran out the 0.5 miles and then back to complete this portion of trail for Elise’s map while Lyn and Lorelei continued on down Long Bunk.  

Elise, Mary, and I started down Long Bunk Trail and immediately we ran into deep leaves and horse ruts.  This trail was definitely gorgeous, but technically a nightmare due to the fact that the ruts were deep and not visible underneath the leaves.  It was nice to have a good set of trekking poles on this trail because I stumbled pretty much the whole way!  The mud trenches going up and downhill on this trail were killer and much like quicksand. Your feet would get stuck, you’d stub your toes, and fall over.  Don’t forget horse poop!  You’re well acquainted by now! It was very obvious this trail was a road at one time, widening out close to the trailhead and home sites were definitively obvious near the creek crossings.  With 0.2 miles until the Little Cataloochee Trail, the Hannah Cemetery was on our left with more than 50 graves and a few very elaborate headstones.  

We all met up at the Little Cataloochee Trail and Elise and Mary went out to grab an extra 1 mile for Elise’s map, leaving Lyn, Lorelei, and myself to head on alone. This part of the trail was definitely the most rewarding.  Less than 0.5 miles down the trail, the Hannah Cabin had been moved and restored off the right side of the trail.  Continuing onward to mile 0.6 was the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church, which sat at the top of a hill and was beautifully maintained with a large cemetery. Continuing onward and now downhill for a bit, you pass through the former community of Ola.  There were lots of fence remnants and wash tubs out in the woods to see as you passed by.  Finally, at mile 1.6, you come to the Cook Cabin. The old applehouse stone structure is standing on one side of the creek and on the other the cabin, restored in the 1990s after years of vandalism.  From here, we had a big, but short uphill segment.  There was a lot to look at on our way up the hill, including lots of stone walls leading up to Davidson Gap.  After reaching the gap, it was all downhill until we hit the car.  

I ended up breaking away from Lyn and Lorelei after taking a break at the top of Davidson Gap.  The hiking went quickly from here, albeit muddy with the creek running in the trail at some points.  The last bit of Little Cataloochee Trail was a blur.  By the time I reached Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, I was flying downhill and reached the parking lot at 5:20 p.m.  Lyn and Lorelei were close behind at 5:45.  I had lots of time to wait on Mary and Elise, who came at 6:30.  

The sun set soon after we got to the car and the hike was perfect in it’s own way. I wish the mud and the horse poop hadn’t been so bad, but it is a heavily used area and the weeks leading up to our hike had been so beautiful that so many people had been out using the trails.  I truly enjoyed this hike and all the history that came with it. 

Twentymile & Lakeshore – 10-23-11

My friend Elise and I decided to do a shuttle hike from Twentymile to Fontana Dam involving Twentymile Trail, crossing the AT and down Lost Cove Trail, stopping for lunch down at campsite 90, and following Lakeshore Trail down to the AT to walk across the dam.  The weather was chilly that morning, but the clear skies and views were awesome. 

We started our hike going up a gentle grade of an old road on Twentymile Trail.  The parking lot was completely full, which I found odd for a cold Sunday morning.  We’d passed some hikers, at barely 9 a.m., that had been out for a few days and they wished us well on our way.  The first 0.5 miles of this trail are wide and nicely graded, a reminder of the old CCC road up to the Shuckstack Firetower.  At 0.5 miles, the trail splits and Wolf Ridge runs up to campsite 13.  There is also a spur trail for the Twentymile Cascades, which were visible from the trail due to the leaves being down. The trail paralleled Twentymile Creek all the way up to campsite 93.  We crossed a large bridge and continued upward on the gentle grade, reaching the 3.1 mile mark and next trail head in only one hour. Proctor Field Gap was a homesite and there was evidence of stone walls in the clearings near the trailhead. 

From Proctor Field Gap, the trail maintained its road-like appearance, but got a lot steeper.  In the first 3.1 miles we’d barely gained 1000 feet.  The next 1.7 miles would gain 1500 feet, the last mile 1000 alone.  The climb got steep and we took a few extra breaks, joking about how we should have gotten up there in half an hour due to our earlier speed.  At about 0.7 miles from the top, off to our right we could see the Shuckstack Firetower on the edge of the mountain standing in the mosaic of fall colors.  We reached the AT crossing in 50 minutes.  From here, our trail would be straight downhill to campsite 90 with very little undulation.  

Our first mile down Lost Cove Trail was down the 1000 feet we’d just climbed on the other side of Shuckstack Mountain.  When I say down I mean straight down. There were a few switchbacks, but for the most part, we did a little shuffle down the mountainside.  At one point, we turned around and took a picture of the hill we’d just descended as it was just too funny.  At that point, we were definitely glad we came down Lost Cove instead of the other way around!  At about 1.3 miles down the trail, we started to hear the stream and the trail turned from dry and leaf-covered to wet and green.  We’d gone over a few easy stream crossings and reached campsite 91 quickly, which was large and really nice.  We met a nice camper there who was going to be out for 8 more days and had already logged 150 nights backpacking this year!  After the campsite, the stream crossings were a little broader, but still easy to rock-hop since the weather had been dry in October.  After passing the campsite, there was old chimney off to the left side of the trail just past the stream showing us evidence of another old homesite.  We crossed about 7 or 8 more streams to come to the trailhead of Lakeshore Trail. 

Elise and I decided to go the 0.4 miles down to campsite 90 and have lunch since she needed that section for her map.  We hiked down the hill to 90 and found we weren’t the only ones out for the day!  Campsite 90 was a disgusting mess of a campsite.  Very large, with plenty of room for at least 50 people, there was trash of all kinds, including insulated coolers half-burned in fire rings and dozens of beer cans.  There were hungover hikers sitting around and at least 15 people still there from the night before who hadn’t started out yet.  One group of campers had jack—o-lanterns, a boom box, and a large cooler.  The water was definitely down in Fontana Lake, but Eagle Creek was roaring and the rocks made for a great place to sit and relax for a few minutes.  We made our way back up to the Lakeshore Trailhead and were there at 1:20.  

At Lakeshore Trail we ran into our camper from 91 who was filming his walk down the trail for his blog and then we headed up the hill.  Our first 1.75 miles or so were undulating, but mostly uphill on the finger ridges of Little Shuckstack Mountain. There wasn’t too much to see along this portion of the trail and after 1 hour we decided to stop for a break, as we were getting tired.  We joked about our Lakeshore Trail Curse and how much we hated stupid Lakeshore Trail.  We were only half joking 🙂  We were confused as the Brown Book let us know we should be crossing a large stream, Birchfield Branch, very shortly and we saw no such stream or 4’ falls like the book called for and wondered if we miscalculated.  Around the 2.75 miles to go mark, we saw a sign indicating which way the hiking trail went and we had noticed the trail had widened out quite a bit.  We were now following old NC-288, the road through all the old logging boomtowns that were located along the river before Fontana Lake was created.  We started seeing lots of remnants of the people who used to live here, mainly their abandoned cars alongside the road. There were two together just past the junction off to the left.  After going around a slight curve, there was another car body off to the left.  

We continued on the fairly wide and level trail to a junction where the road at one time split.  We found another car here and evidence of hog habitation, as well as a defunct hog trap.  We went up another hill, declared our hatred for hills and stupid Lakeshore Trail (again, only half kidding!) and then the trail leveled out yet again for our last 0.8 miles.  The land around here was very flat and part of the Coburn Homestead.  The Brown Book states there are artifacts around, such as bottles and metal, but we didn’t see them, only another defunct hog trap.  We came to the Lakeshore Trailhead and rejoiced to be finished.  Now we just had to walk the old NC-288 road past the AT and down across the damn, about 1.25 miles.  

The walk down to the dam was pleasant and quiet.  The road is paved, but it looked like it had been closed to cars for a few months. Leaves covered the road and it was kind of eerie in a way, almost like in a postapocalyptic movie.  We reached the dam and saw the crews working away (on a Sunday no less!) doing improvements on the dam.  We took a few photos of the views as it was clear and cloudless.  Once crossing the dam, we looked back toward the trail and could once again see the Shuckstack Firetower looming overhead.  It was a very cool feeling to know we’d seen it from both sides of the mountain, as well as we’d been up at the firetower site earlier in the day.  It’s always a good feeling when you can see just how far you’ve walked by seeing landmarks.  

This was a great day in the Smokies with perfect fall weather.