Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jakes Creek Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 3.0
Trail Miles Hiked: 7.2
Elevation Gain: 1600 feet
20 Feb. 2011

Phew!  It's been over 2 months since my last hike, and I can't tell you how much I've been itching to get out.  I had planned to take a couple of day trips over the Christmas holidays, but the weather got in the way.  We had a lot of snow here in December and January - and it's not that that snow scares me away from the trails - it's that the roads in and around the park close when there's snow.

In contrast to all the snow of December & January, the last couple of weeks have been positively spring-like.  Temps in the 60s and beautiful sunshine.  So today I FINALLY decided I just had to get out. I took off this afternoon and arrived at the Jakes Creek trailhead around 2:30 to head up the Jakes Creek Trail.

I'm very familiar with this general area having previously hiked the Little River and Cucumber Gap trails, and having camped at Elkmont with my family on several occasions (it definitely ranks as my favorite Smokies campground, especially the sites right along the river).  The park has recently renovated the parking areas here, and it was a much-needed improvement.  There are now plenty of designated parking areas, so folks don't have to park on the side of the road (and muddy up the banks), and it looks much better!  You might say "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot" but in this case it's a good thing!

Jakes Creek trail starts at the upper edge of the Elkmont cabin community and basically follows Jakes Creek up-valley to Jakes Gap (between Blanket Mtn & Dripping Spring Mtn) where it meets up with the Miry Ridge and Panther Creek trails.  The operative word here is "up"...  The trail gains about 1600 feet in elevation over its 3.6 miles (or 3.7 if you believe the sign instead of the map).  That might not sound like much, but it was a steady up - no flat spots, just up, up, up...  And I haven't been out hiking for 2 months so I'm probably out of of shape.

Regardless, it was a beautiful day to be out and there was a feeling of expectation in the air.  While it's still winter and most everything is brown and bare there was a hint of spring.  Jakes Creek was full of melted snow and was rushing along quite happily.

The trail follows an old gravel railroad bed for about the first third.  This area was logged prior to the establishment of the park, and the railroad was used to extract the logs.  It makes for easy hiking - the trail is wide and level so one can look around rather than constantly having to watch the trail for rocks or roots waiting to snare the unwary.  At the end of the gravel the trail crosses over a creek (Newt Prong) that drains into Jakes Creek.

I love these log bridges - the just seem so perfect.  And they usually offer outstanding views up and downstream of the beautiful mountain streams they cross.  From here the trail becomes more typical - narrower and full of rocks and tree roots so you have to watch your step.  The up, up, up continues through beautiful rhododendron and hemlock forest, and there are a lot of Magnolias along the trail as well - the trail was littered with last year's fruits.  It must be gorgeous in the April and May when they're all in flower.

Near the top of the trail is backcountry campsite #27.  Jakes Creek trail is both a horse and hiking trail, and campsite 27 is apparently pretty heavily used.  There are several tent spots and a few fire rings in addition to the designated one.  As you come into the site from the trail there's a huge rock right near the entrance, and the designated fire ring is right in front of it.

I stopped here for a rest, snack and a drink and surveyed the campsite.  Like many backcountry campsites, this one shows the signs of abuse.  There was a lot of trash, both in and around the fire rings and the fire ring was full of ash.  The water source is presumably Jakes Creek, but that's a bit of a hike downhill to get to the water.  Overall I'd give this campsite just a moderate rating.

I've finally figured out how to use the timer on the camera, so I can get some shots of myself when I go out for solo hikes.  Here's me sitting in front of the fire ring at campsite 27.

While I was here I took a photo of two new backpacking toys I got for Christmas/birthday: a Kelty Redwing 3100 pack and a pair of Leki Makalu trekking poles.

The pack was a birthday present I bought for myself :-)  My old day pack is probably 10 years old and was purchased at Wal-Mart...  It served me well, but as I started to carry more stuff even on day hikes (lots of water, food, extra clothes, rain gear, the "10 essentials", etc) I was getting sore shoulders because it didn't have a belt.  So I bought myself the Redwing to serve as a large daypack and I love it!  It's very comfortable - I got the 3100 (instead of the smaller 2650 cubic inch version) because I'm tall and have a long torso so i needed the extra height.  The trekking poles I got as a birthday gift from my brother, sister-in-law, my mom and her husband.  We were in Charlotte, NC and they gave me some cash to spend at the local REI store!  I've been wanting trekking poles for a while and was happy to be able to give them a try.  Overall I'm quite happy with them - they're comfortable and were really useful on both the uphills and downhills of Jakes Creek trail and over the several rock-hops over creeks.  One of them needs some adjustment (the bottom section kept slipping), but I'm sure it will be easy to take care of and I'm happy to have the extra support and balance they offer.

From campsite #27 it's not far to the top of the trail at the junction of Jakes Creek, Miry Ridge and Panther Creek trails.  (and here's another self-portrait)

One of the things I love about hiking all the trails in the Smokies is coming back to places I've been before, and this was one of those times.  I loop-hiked the Middle Prong-Lynn Camp Prong-Miry Ridge-Panther Creek trails a couple of years ago and so passed by this trail junction before.  I remember the morning well.  I met a group of hikers here, and one of them was wearing a Philmont hat.  Our Boy Scout troop was planning a Philmont expedition so I talked with him quite a while about his experiences at Philmont and Boy Scouts in general.  I remember thinking at the time that someday I might be back to see what was down that other trail...  And there I was today!

One last surprise for the day: while I was taking my snack break at the campsite I got out the map to see how far it was to the top of the trail and I noticed something on the map I hadn't seen before.  Not too far up the Jakes Creek trail was supposedly a footbridge across Jakes Creek to the Avent Cabin.  I hadn't noticed anything on the way up, but decided to keep my eyes open on the way down.  Sure enough, not far down from the log bridge on Jakes Creek trail I spied a footbridge.  I should point out that Jakes Creek trail is on a ridge well above Jakes Creek for most of the way, and you only get occasional glimpses of the creek from high above, so it's really NOT obvious.  I bushwhacked downhill for a ways toward to bridge and then came upon a trail leading to it.  I followed the trail to the bridge which led across an absolutely gorgeous section of the creek.

Across the creek and up the bank there was the Avent Cabin - an absolutely phenomenally beautiful little log cabin.  Set right above the creek with lots of big windows - just one room on the bottom floor (with a fireplace), a loft, and a great front porch.

Although I first didn't recognize the name, once I actually saw the cabin I realized that I HAD heard of it before.  In fact, less than 2 weeks ago William Britten's photo blog that I follow had a blog about it!  I recognized it as the same cabin as soon as I saw it.  Definitely someplace I want to take the family back to see.  The funny thing is, it's not easy to find unless you know it's there.  The trail to it is not marked, nor is it obvious from the main trail (there are some makeshift steps leading down the first little bit that you might notice if you're looking for them).  The Little Brown Book doesn't mention it (at least not the 2001 edition I have).  But now that I know it's there and how to get to it I'll definitely be going back.

So overall it was a great trip.  I'm worn out from the hike - need to get out more and get back into shape! But it was a great day with beautiful weather and a good trail.  Can't ask for much more than that.  All told it took me about 3.5 hours to make the 7.2 miles roundtrip.

til next time, happy hiking!