Saturday, December 26, 2009

Birthday Hike

First off, I want to recommend a book.  Probably everyone who is serious about hiking in the Smokies already has this book, but if you don't - you should get it!

It's got everything you need to tackle the trails in the park - elevation profiles, trail descriptions, accurate mileage and great natural and cultural history.  Plus it's small and lightweight enough to fit in your daypack.  If you don't already have it you can get it here.

Now - on to the business of the day.  Today is my birthday, and what better way to spend one's birthday than to go for a hike?  Jesse had to work, but Sarah, Laurel & Duncan were all game to go with me so we picked out a good hike that was relatively close and short.  We started at the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic area and took the Metcalf Bottoms trail and the Little Brier Gap trail from Metcalf Bottoms up to the Walker Sister's cabin.  Trail distance of 2.1 miles (= 4.2 miles roundtrip); elevation gain of about 500'.

The trail starts just on the north side of the bridge over the Little River at Metcalf Bottoms and leads first to the Little Greenbrier School in just about 0.7 miles.

According to "Hiking Trails of the Smokies" this log school building was built in 1882 with all of the area residents pitching in materials and/or labor.  It was also used as a church building and there is a cemetery next door with many gravestones from the late 1800s / early 1900s.

From the Little Greenbrier School the Little Brier Gap trail winds about 1.1 miles to the Walker Sister's cabin, and then 0.3 miles further on it dead-ends into the Little Greenbrier Trail.

The trail follows an old road and is wide and even.  It follows a branch (aka creek or stream) for most of its length and is bordered by mountain laurel and rhododendron.  Along the way we stopped for a few rest breaks and enjoyed the beautiful sunny day.

The Walker Sister's cabin was really cool.  The "Hiking Trails of the Smokies" tells the story of the 5 Walker sisters who grew up in this cabin and stayed even after the National Park was created in 1934.  The last one, Louisa, lived here until she died in 1964.  The cabin is very simple - two floors, each with one room, and attached building that served as the kitchen.  No electricity, no plumbing, and only a fireplace for heat.  The only outbuildings that remain are the corn crib / tool shed, and the spring house.

While Sarah and the kids stayed at the cabin I hiked the remaining 0.3 miles of the trail up to its junction with the Little Greenbrier Trail at the very edge of the park.

Looking down over the ridge you can see down into Wear's Valley on the northern border of the Smokies.

There's really something spectacular about the Smokies in the winter.  While the laurels, rhododendron, hemlock and pines stay green, all of the hardwoods have lost their leaves and you can see much more deeply into the forest than usual.  The way the light trickles through these bare tree branches is mesmerizing. 

All in all it was a great hike and beautiful day.  Mostly it was just great to get to spend my birthday doing what I like best with the people I like best.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas!  Look what I got :-)

Looks like in addition to hiking more new trails in the park this year we'll be going on some Scavenger Hunt hikes too!
Read more about the book here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Chimney Tops Trail

Sarah and I hiked this trail on our 20th anniversary weekend.  We'd always wanted to do this trail, but it's not recommended for small kids because it's a VERY strenuous trail (straight up) and because the rock outcrop at the top of the trail is dangerous.  So our anniversary weekend when we were all alone was the perfect time to tackle it.

It was a beautiful early spring day - sunny and warm - and the trail was busy.  Amazingly we saw LOTS of people with little kids struggling to make it up.  The hike climbs steeply up a draw and then skirts around a ridge to ultimately end up at the Chimney Tops formation - a bare rock slab that goes STEEPLY up to the top.

As you come around a corner on the ridge you can see the Chimney Tops in the distance.  It's a pretty imposing formation.

The sign at the bottom warns of the dangers of climbing to the top.  It's pretty scary looking up from the bottom.  Sarah opted to stay below while I climbed up.

This is a view back down the Chimneys from about 1/2 way up.  Yep - it's as steep as it looks.

Another hardy hiker took my picture for me once I made it to the top.  The views were outstanding in all directions and it was definitely an adrenaline rush to have made it up!

After the hike Sarah and I headed back into Townsend for dinner at Deadbeat Pete's - a great little Mexican restaurant that sits right on the Little River.  And then back to our cabin for an evening of relaxation in the hot tub.  All in all a great hike and a great anniversary weekend!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


A couple of details to take care of:

1. Thanks to Laura for the suggestion of adding an odometer of sorts to keep track of my mileage (see the sidebar directly under my photo). I've listed both the trail miles hiked (the sum of which will eventually come to 900) AND the actual miles hiked (because often one must backtrack or re-hike trails). I'll be curious how many ACTUAL miles I've hiked once I reach the magic number of 900 trail miles.

2. thanks to Sarah for the header. not only is she my wife, best friend and biggest cheerleader, she's also quite talented in all things blogging.

Happy hiking!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Curry Mountain Trail

Today's hike was the first deliberate hike geared toward completing the 900+ miles of trails in the Smokies. As a family we go to the Smokies often, but we have a tendency to go back to our favorite places over and over again. Because, well... they're our favorite places! There's a spot in Cades Cove where we go most springs to sit among the daffodils and picnic. The nature trail at Chimney's picnic area is another favorite short hike. We've hiked the first couple of miles of Middle Prong trail numerous times. I've been back and forth from Cades Cove to Abrams Falls over and over. You get the picture.

But after deciding to try to complete ALL of the trails I knew I'd have to start branching out. Part of the deal is that our younger kids are not yet up to 6, 8 or 10 mile hikes (or maybe they are and I just don't realize it) so most of our family hikes are short, partial trails. Jesse is a great hiker and is almost always game for a long hike, so he is often my companion.

So with Christmas break upon us I got out the map and looked for a decent length trail that we could day-hike (Jesse rejected my first proposal of a 13 mile trek...). The Curry Mountain Trail is close by (we can get to the trail head in about 40 minutes) and only 6.6 miles round trip. The trail gains a little over 1000' in elevation over 3.3 miles.

I had hoped that there would be snow, but wasn't sure how much there would be... There was plenty.

The trail head is just down from the Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.

Down low the snow was thin and melting fast, but the higher up we got the deeper the snow. It was a beautiful sunny day and we quickly shed our fleece jackets and wool sweaters.

Curry Mountain trail dead-ends into the Meigs Mountain trail here at this junction. The snow here was a good 8-10" deep and as the sun rose over the ridge it was starting to melt from the trees and fall to the ground.

We stopped here for lunch and a rest before turning back toward home. The trip up took about an hour and a half; the trip back down just over an hour.

While completing the 900 miles in the park is a goal, it's not the real goal. Mostly it's a way to explore more of this amazing place called the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am amazingly blessed to live so close, and I intend to take full advantage. In fact, I'm already getting out my maps and guidebooks and thinking about my next hike.

here we go...

These pages are to document my plan to hike all 900+ miles of trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I'm starting this blog in Dec. 2009 so first I'll list the trails hiked since I moved to Tennessee in 1999 til now. Our family did lots of short hikes and partial trails during that time, but I've only listed completed trails below.

1. Spring, 2000. Jesse was a Tiger Cub Scout and our Pack did the Rich Mountain loop in Cades Cove. I was impressed that Jesse (who was only 7) was able to hike the whole thing! Total mileage hiked: 8.7

2. July, 2002 (I think). Solo hike of the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Fontana Dam. I did this over the course of 4 or 5 days. Sarah (and the kids and her friend and her friend's child) had to drive over Deal's Gap (affectionately known as the Tail of the Dragon - 318 curves in 11 miles) to come get me. Jesse puked in the back of the van... Total mileage hiked: 35

3. December, 2004. Ed Lickey and I hiked a loop consisting of Big Creek Trail - Gunter Fork Trail - Laurel Gap Shelter - Mt Sterling Ridge Trail - Baxter Creek Trail. It was a beautiful weekend and relatively warm for December. I remember lots of creek crossings - we finally ended up hiking a big chunk of the trail in our boxer shorts and sandals to avoid having to keep taking off our boots and pants every time we had to cross a creek... I also remember the guys we shared the shelter with had fried spam for breakfast, and that we saw some of the biggest trees I've ever seen in the Smokies along the Baxter Creek Trail. Total mileage hiked: 22.5

4. April, 2005. As a volunteer leader with the Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage I've led walks from Cades Cove to Abrams Falls on numerous occasions. This is a beautiful hike in the spring when the wildflowers are out. This is one of the places in the park where one can find gaywings (
Polygala pauciflora). Total mileage hiked: 5

5. Fall, 2005. Abrams Creek Campground - Campsite 17 - Abrams Falls. This was Jesse's first real backpacking trip. It's a short hike (around 2.5 miles) and a great campsite near Abrams Creek. The next day we left our packs at the campsite (safely suspended on the bear cables) and day-hiked up to Abrams Falls, then returned to pick up our stuff and back to the campground. I recently redid this hike with our Boy Scout Troop in December 2009. Low temperatures in the 20s... Brr! Total mileage hiked: 10

6. Fall, 2007. Schoolhouse Gap Trail to West Prong Trail to Campsite 18 to Bote Mountain Trail to Finley Cane Trail to Turkeypen Ridge Trail to Schoolhouse Gap Trail loop. Jesse and I did this together. It was a nice campsite - right along the creek. I remember going to bed REALLY early because it was dark and cold and we couldn't get much of a fire going. Total mileage hiked: 9

7. April, 2008. Again with the Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage I've hiked the Deep Creek Trail from Newfound Gap Road to Deep Creek a couple of times. These have been with my good friends Joey and Ed and a passel of "pilgrims" - it's a fun hike (all downhill), but a long day. Total mileage hiked: 14.2

8. Fall, 2008. Middle Prong Trail to Lynn Camp Prong Trail to Miry Ridge Trail to Panther Creek Trail to Middle Prong Trail. Spent the night at Campsite 28. There were several other people at the campsite, and dire warnings about bear activity, but it's a large campsite with several spots and I found a nice, cozy spot away from everyone else and never saw a bear. It's a nice loop. Total mileage hiked: 13.9

9. March, 2009. Chimney Tops Trail. We had been wanting to hike this trail for a long time, but hadn't found the time. So - when Sarah and I spent the weekend in Townsend for our 20th anniversary we decided to go for it. While it's a short hike, it's almost entirely UPhill and pretty steep. The rock outcrop at the end was well worth it though. I climbed to the top while Sarah sat at the bottom and averted her eyes, sure that I was going to plunge to my death... Total mileage hiked: 4