Sunday, March 20, 2011

Grotto Falls - Trillium Gap Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 1.4
Trail Miles Hiked: 2.8
19 March 2011

My wife Sarah and I traditionally spend a weekend in a cabin in Townsend, TN (the "quiet side of the Smokies") some time around our anniversary.  We spend the Saturday of the weekend out on a hike, and then head back to the cabin to soak in the hot tub after eating dinner out (this year we ate at Miss Lily's Cafe in Townsend - it was fantastic!).  This year we decided on a short and non-strenuous hike (in previous years we had done the Chimney Tops trail and the Old Sugarlands trail), but wanted to see something neat so we decided to go see Grotto Falls.

Grotto Falls is on the Trillium Gap trail which is in the Gatlinburg area off of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.  I had been in this area before when I did the Rainbow Falls - Bullhead trail loop up to Mt. LeConte, but I'd never been on Roaring Fork before.

We arrived around noon and the parking areas were absolutely packed, as was the trail.  It was warm, but grey and cloudy and the trail was wet and muddy from recent rains.

We'd been moving up the trail for probably 10-15 minutes when a guy came running down the trail asking if we had cell phones with signal...  Not a good sign.  We moved a little further up the trail to find a gentleman who had slipped on a wet log, fallen and broken his leg.  The guy running down the trail and his wife were the first folks to come across this guy after he'd fallen (he was hiking alone).  We stayed with him and tried to get him as comfortable as possible, keep him warm and keep him talking while the other guy went to get help.  Luckily he was able to get cell signal and call in the rescue squad.  All in all we probably stayed with the guy for about an hour until the rescue squad got there and got him prepared to be evacuated.  A number of people stopped to try to help, pray or commiserate with him and he was in remarkably good spirits for someone who was clearly in tremendous pain.  I happened to be wearing my Boy Scouts sweatshirt and he had been a long time scout leader so we talked for a long time about scouts.  It was particularly sad because he'd just had knee replacement surgery a couple of years earlier and was worried that this break might end his ability to get out on the trails that he loves.  On the off chance that you ever read this blog Ray, I hope you're doing ok and that the docs got you fixed up!  Maybe we'll see you out on the trails again some day.

We headed on up the trail after the rescue squad asked people to clear out to make room for the evacuation, but were in a bit of a somber mood.  The trail and the clouds seemed to match our mood.  The trail is well-worn and was very muddy.  If the day we were there is any indication then it is a WELL-traveled trail.  It winds along and up a ridge through some nice old-growth forest.  As you come around a corner you get your first glimpse of Grotto Falls from well below.

We stopped a little further up the trail along the creek for lunch and then continued on up to Grotto Falls, which was every bit as crowded as Laurel Falls might be on an average day.

Grotto Falls is a big attraction because not only is it close to the trail head (just 1.4 miles of pretty easy hiking), but it's unique in that the trail actually passes behind the falls.

It really is a pretty area and the falls are well worth seeing.  From here we turned back down and pretty soon the sun came out and warmed us up, both inside and out.  Here's a view of the trail after the sun came out.

We made it back to the car (and talked a lot about Ray and wondered how he was doing) and prepared for the drive around the rest of Roaring Fork.  I was really pleasantly surprised!  In many ways Roaring Fork is a lot like Cades Cove - it was a thriving community and many of the cabins and homesites are still there and are being preserved by the park.  It's different in that it's set in a beautiful and pretty narrow  hollow made by the Roaring Fork instead of a wide valley like Cades Cove, but it has a lot of the same feeling.

We stopped by the Ephraim Bales homesite which was occupied from the late 1800s - early 1900s.  A two room log cabin (one living area, one cooking area), a barn, smokehouse and hog pen, all situated near the banks of the Roaring Fork (which really was roaring with all the recent rain!).

I look forward to going back to Roaring Fork someday with the kids and exploring it more! I was a beautiful river and all kinds of cool cabins and houses along the way.  From here we headed back to Townsend, dinner and hot tub.

As an aside, this morning we decided to go for another short hike before heading home.  We headed up to the Middle Prong trailhead intending to meander up the Middle Prong trail for a while, but ended up being adventurous and taking the Thunderhead Prong-Defeat Ridge manway that leads to the right at the trailhead.  While we only hiked a mile or two up the trail, it was easy to follow and led through a beautiful river valley.  Definitely someplace we want to go back to and take the kids, and maybe one day I'll try the whole trail up to the A.T. on Thunderhead Mtn (although from what I've read about it, it sounds pretty daunting).

It was a great weekend with my sweet wife of 22 years, and a nice couple of days on the trails.  Spring is definitely springing around here, and it's a great time to be out in the park.

til next time, happy hiking!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Meigs Mountain & Lumber Ridge Trails

Trail Miles Completed: 10.1
Trail Miles Hiked: 11.0
16 March 2011

First off - I have passed the 25% mark!  I've now completed over 200 miles of trails in the Smokies.  My map has lots of blue lines covering the trails I've finished (most of them in the northwest corner of the park) and I'm excited about the upcoming months and getting a bunch more trails checked off.

Now - today's hike was actually supposed to be an overnight backpack trip, but the weather intervened with rain most of Tuesday, so I decided just to take a long day hike today.  The Meigs Mountain and Lumber Ridge trails connect Elkmont with Tremont.  While the distance is a little over 10 miles it was a pretty easy day.  There's not much elevation change, just some nice meandering up and down.

I cashed in one of my birthday coupons and had Sarah help me shuttle my car to Tremont and then drop me off at Elkmont.  She and Duncan then hiked with me up the Jakes Creek trail to see the Avent Cabin.

Duncan liked my new trekking poles and decided he wants a pair himself.  With all the rain we've had recently the creeks were all running high which made for some gorgeous little waterfalls all over the place.

Duncan took this picture of Sarah & me in front of the waterfall.

I got out my map and showed Duncan exactly where we were, and where I was planning to hike.

The hike from the Elkmont parking lot up Jakes Creek trail to the Avent Cabin is only about 0.8 miles.  It's a beautiful little cabin I visited for the first time last month and I was excited to share it with Sarah & Duncan.

After looking over the cabin we hiked back down Jakes Creek trail to the Meigs Mountain trailhead where they left me and I started out my hike at about 11:45.

Meigs Mountain trail runs about 6 miles due west from Elkmont towards Tremont.  Right off the bat it crosses over Jakes Creek (which was FULL of water) on a log bridge.

It then winds through an area that was fairly heavily settled before the park came into existence and you can still see the evidence of old rock walls, pieces and parts of machinery, and of course the daffodils (seems like everyone who ever built a house in the Smokies planted daffodils).

A little less than 2 miles from Elkmont the trail comes to backcountry campsite #20.  This campsite is one of the "reservation required" sites, and sits at the confluence of several little creeks.  It's pretty flat and open and has several good tent sites and fire rings, along with a few old pieces of machinery lying around.  I stopped here for a snack and a drink.  This would be a good site to come back to with a big group - not too far from the trailhead and a nice big open site.

From here the trail continues to meander up and down, mostly along ridge sides of the mountains it traverses.  There are several creek crossings (easy rock hops, even with the high water) and it's a good trail.  Lots of pretty cascades and the sound of rushing water to accompany you.  This part of the trail is mostly on the north-facing side of the slope so it's cool and wet - lots of rhododendron and hemlock.

After about 4 miles you come to the junction of the Meigs Mountain trail with the Curry Mountain trail that comes up from Little River Road.  Jesse and I did the Curry Mountain trail in Dec. of 2009 and it was neat to come back here and remember our hike together.  When we were here before there was a blanket of snow everywhere!

From this juncture it's a short trip to couple of other points of interest.  Just 0.2 miles past this intersection there is an old mountain cemetery just off the trail.  It's very small, but still looks to be maintained.  Almost all the headstones are simple flat pieces of rock that either never had names on them, or the names have faded away.  There was only one "normal" headstone, for a woman, Polly Huskey, who lived from 1866-1909.

Just another 0.2 miles beyond the cemetery you come to backcountry campsite #19.  This is apparently an old homesite, although where one would put the house, barn and smokehouse that were supposed to be here is beyond me!  It's a fairly small campsite and situated on a pretty steep bank, but would make a really nice spot for a small group or solo camp (this is where I had intended to stay if the weather hadn't been rainy).  There was a guy camping here and I also met the Adopt-a-Trail volunteer who covers this trail as well as campsites #19 & #20.

This is also where I stopped for lunch and a break at about 2 pm.  Hot & Spicy ramen noodles - yum!

About 1.5 miles beyond campsite #19 the Meigs Mountain trail ends at Buckhorn Gap where it meets the Meigs Creek trail (coming up from Little River Road at the Sinks) and the Lumber Ridge trail (coming up from Tremont).  I did the Meigs Creek trail last fall, so this was another deja vu moment for me.  There is also an unmaintained trail ("manway") that leads from here down to Spruce Flat Falls near Tremont.  I just read someone's description of that the other day and I look forward to giving it a try myself someday (sounds like a good summer trip with lots of water crossings).

From here I jumped on to the Lumber Ridge trail to take me the last 4.1 miles down to Tremont and my car.  The trail immediately veers onto a south-facing slope and you can immediately tell the difference in the vegetation.  South-facing slopes tend to get more sun and are thus drier, so you get a lot more pines and mountain laurels and fewer hemlocks and rhododendrons.  At several places along the Lumber Ridge trail you can see the recent devastation wreaked by the pine bark beetle.  Lots of areas of standing dead and downed pines.

Heading in this direction the Lumber Ridge trail stays fairly level for about the first mile and then starts to ascend Lumber Ridge.  This was the only tough part of today's hike - an elevation gain of about 500 feet over the course of 0.5 miles.

The trail peaks near the top of Lumber Ridge at a place called "the saddle" which is exactly what it looks like.  I stopped here for another snack and drink.

From here the trail descends about 1300 feet over about 2.5 miles to Tremont.  The trail weaves back and forth between north-facing & south-facing slopes, and the drop-off the side of the trail gets much steeper.  There are a number of great vantage points along here where you can look out and see the mountains close by.  I took a picture, but a photograph can never capture the true subtle beauty of the smokies...

By now it was getting late in the day - around 4 or 4:30 - and it had been pretty grey all day.  It was a good temperature for hiking, but I missed having some sunshine.  Then all of a sudden the clouds parted and the sun came out! I was so happy I took a picture just because the light looked so nice slanting through the trees!

The trail switchbacks down the mountain toward Tremont and in places you can hear the roar of water below and catch glimpses of the road.  At one point, maybe a mile above Tremont I came across this post in front of a side trail that looked like it was leading down toward Spruce Flats.  Anybody know where this trail leads or why it's marked with an "M"?

I finally strolled into Tremont right at 5 pm, so it took me about 5 hours 15 minutes to cover the 10.1 miles and that included several stops for lunch, snacks, drinks, etc.

I highly recommend this hike either for an easy overnight backpack trip or a long day hike.  The terrain is pleasant and not terribly challenging.  There's lots of cultural history to be seen, and it seems to be pretty good for wildflowers as well although it's still quite early in the season.

It was a great day to be out in the smokies, and thanks to Sarah and Duncan for helping me shuttle and hiking up to the Avent Cabin with me!

til next time, happy hiking!