Tuesday, January 19, 2010

West Prong Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 2.0
Total Miles Hiked: 4.0

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day so we didn't have school.  It was also a nice warm (50 degrees) and sunny day after a soggy weekend.  So - what better to do than go for a hike?

Caleb is one of Duncan's best friends and spent the night on Sunday, and they both joined me on this hike.  It's a good trail for little legs to get some practice hiking.  The total trail runs from Tremont to the Bote Mtn. Trail (2.7 miles), but we only hiked from Tremont up to Campsite 18 (2.0 miles).

On a previous backpacking trip Jesse and I had stayed at Campsite 18, but had come to it from the other end of the West Prong Trail, so I only needed the Tremont end of the trail to complete the whole thing.

It was a really beautiful day for mid-January.  Warm and sunny and while the trail was pretty muddy in places due to recent rains it was in pretty good shape overall.  The trail rises a few hundred feet over the first 1.1 miles as it skirts the edge of Fodderstack Mtn.  There were lots of good views to the north along this section.  From there to Campsite 18 the trail descends gently.  All in all it was both gentle and challenging enough for a 9 & 10-year old.


The boys were, of course, always looking for someplace to climb and this little draw fit the bill perfectly.  We spent about 15 minutes here as the boys climbed on the mossy rocks up above this tiny waterfall/pool and got thoroughly muddy and happy.


Near the crest of the trail (about mile 1.1) we came across this stump - you can see the top of the tree behind the boys.  It was clear this tree had been chopped (not sawn) down - you can still see the axe marks.  They pretended to be beavers chewing the tree down :-)
We counted the rings and figured the tree was about 70 years old when it was felled, which looks to have been a pretty long time ago.


Our final destination was Campsite 18.  This is a really nice site.  It sits right on the banks of the West Prong and is large enough to accommodate several groups.  There are tent sites on either site of the creek and an old log bridge across it.


When we got there Duncan & Caleb pretended to be exhausted, but really they were just waiting for me to get the beef jerky out.  We stayed and played and explored the campsite for about half and hour, and saw the spot where Jesse and I had camped a couple of years ago.  We ate up our rations of beef jerky, trail mix, donuts and licorice before heading back.


My two little troopers - they did a great job!


On the way back down we took a side trail to an old cemetery that is close to Tremont.  It is still maintained and used, and the headstones ranged from folks who had died in the late 1800s to the 2000s.  It was a strange sight to see all those plastic flowers in the middle of woods surrounded by an old split-rail fence.


Duncan took this picture of me while we were on our way back down.  We made it back to the car just as it was starting to get dark.  A couple of tired but happy little boys, and one tired but happy big boy.

Happy hiking!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Little Greenbrier Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 4.3
Total Miles Hiked: 8.6
Elevation Gained: 1800'

Well school starts again in about a week so I wanted to get in one more hike.  The Little Greenbrier Trail runs from the Metcalf Bottoms entrance of the Smokies along the northern boundary of the park and then up the side of a ridge to Cove Mountain where it intersects with the Laurel Falls Trail.

It's been a cold week here in Tennessee, and today looked like the best weather to get out - highs around 30 degrees, but bright and sunny.  The trail rises about 400' in elevation over the first 1.9 miles, and then another 1400' over the last 2.4 miles.  It's a good trail though - well graded and never really steep.  There was a dusting of snow as I started up and on the south-facing slopes it nearly disappeared, but the higher I went the more snow there was.  Probably 3-4" by the time I got to the top.

The first part of the trail skirts the northern park boundary and you can look out to the north and see down into Wear's Valley.

You can occasionally see the park boundary markers, and the first part of the trail is actually outside of the park in a few places.

When I started my hike this morning I was the first one on the trail since the last snow probably 2 or 3 days ago.  That is until I realized the wildlife are also using the trail.  This is a set of turkey tracks that were perfectly preserved in the snow.

This was my first view of my ultimate destination: Cove Mountain (actually the Laurel Falls trail junction is 0.9 miles south of the Cove Mtn. summit).  It was a little intimidating to look up from the bottom of the trail and realize that I would be climbing up that.

The first trail junction I came to was the Little Greenbrier Trail-Little Brier Gap Trail intersection (1.9 miles from the trailhead).  The trails in the Smokies are incredibly well marked.  Every intersection has a sign with the trail names and mileage for nearby places.  I met a group from the Wednesday Morning Hiking Club here.  From here the trail started to seriously gain elevation (and snow).  There were a few downed trees from the snow, but for the most part the trail was quite passable.


Here's a view of Cove Mtn. from about 1/2 way up the trail.


I need to improve my self-portrait skills...


Pictures can hardly begin the capture the beauty of the Smokies in the snow.  Every tree was covered with a thin layer of snow that was slowly drifting down to the ground.  It looked like it was constantly lightly snowing.


Higher up the snow got deeper.  Usually in the Smokies you think about hiking through a "green tunnel" of Laurel & Rhododendron.  This time of year it's more like a "green & white tunnel"


This was my final destination: junction of the Little Greenbrier Trail with the Laurel Falls Trail.  It was an amazingly beautiful hike - I love the Smokies in the snow.

I'll leave you with this one final picture: