Saturday, August 27, 2011

Roundtop Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 7.5
Trail Miles Hiked: 7.5
27 August 2011

The little brown book says that this trail is one of the least used in the whole park - having hiked it (finally) I can't imagine why it's not more popular!  What's not to love?  It's a great length for a day hike (7.5 miles; assuming you can set up a shuttle), it's not too strenuous on either the ups or the downs, and you end up at the Townsend Y where you can jump right in and cool off!  It's the perfect summer hike.

My hiking partners - Sarah & Duncan

We had to run some errands and take care of some business this morning, but by around noon we were on the road headed to the Smokies.  We arrived at the trailhead near Metcalf Bottoms around 1 pm after first dropping car #1 at the Townsend Y.  I love the sign at the trailhead: "Townsend Wye 7.5 (No Bridge)" :-)

The first part of the trail gains about 800 ft of elevation over about 2.5 miles.  It's never really steep or difficult, just a series of uphills and flat sections.  From a spot near the beginning of the trail you get a great view of Roundtop Mtn.  I think it scared Sarah a little when I pointed it out, thinking that we had to climb all the way UP there.  Luckily the trail doesn't go over the top of Roundtop, but skirts the southern edge.

View of Roundtop from near the beginning of the trail.

From about the 2.5 mile mark on the trail generally descends (there are still a few ups left, but not many) and so the going gets easier.  The elevation loss from the hight point to the end over the last 5 miles is about 1500 ft.  As the trail generally follows a south-facing ridge, it tends to be fairly dry and dominated by oaks, pines & laurels.  For much of the way the trail is fairly narrow - wide enough for one, but no more.  It really doesn't seem to be well-used - it's kind of overgrown in places and just doesn't have the well-used look of some other trails.

Along the way we saw lots of evidence of wildlife.  Large piles of bear scat were evident all along the trail, and we heard a deer crashing through the woods at one point.  Duncan spotted a Black Snake (I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch him) and we saw dozens of funnel web spiders.  But the highlight of the day had to be the Rattlesnakes...

So I'm in the lead with Duncan right behind me and Sarah bringing up the rear.  I'm cruising along the trail when I hear Duncan yell "Whoa...  There's a snake!"  I stop in my tracks, and slowly turn around to ask him where.  He points to a spot I had just cruised past to see not one, but two Timber Rattlesnakes not a foot off the trail.  Lucky for me (1) Duncan has good eyes and (2) the Rattlesnakes were way too enamored with each other to worry about any of us...  They never even rattled their tails.  These are the first rattlesnakes I've ever actually seen IN the GSMNP, and they were gorgeous! (Duncan thought they were way cool.  Sarah, not so much)

There are lots of spots along this trail where you can look out over the trees to the south for nice views of Lumber Ridge and Meigs Mountain.  I always take pictures of views like this, but they never capture the real depth of the Smokies...

View to the south from Roundtop Trail

Ultimately the Roundtop Trail ends up just above the Townsend Y.  As you approach it you start to hear the tell-tale sounds first of cars, then of water, and finally of people.  The views down into the Y are quite nice as you're on a relatively sheer cliff above the Y looking down onto it.

When you finally reach the Y you're on the "wrong" side of the river and must ford across.  The end of the trail just kind of fades away into a myriad of trails leaving you several options for crossing.  Today the water was fairly low given the time of year and the lack of rain so we just headed straight across toward the parking area.  We stayed a while to swim at the Y - the water is still refreshingly cold and it felt wonderful to dive in after a long days hike.

It was a wonderful day to spend with a part of my family.  Grand adventures and beautiful views.  A good challenging hike, but not too much.  And top it all off with a nice swim in the river.  I highly recommend this trail - lots of fun without too much pain.

Til next time, happy hiking!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cooper Road Trail

Trail Miles Completed: 1.7
Trail Miles Hiked: 6.2
20 August 2011

Some days you just have to get out and hike.  It may not be a big mileage day, and it may not lead to an amazing waterfall or astounding mountain-top view, but sometimes you just have to go.  Last Saturday was one of those days.  For a variety of reasons I felt like there was a pretty big weight on my shoulders last week.  And Sarah needed some quiet time to get some things done.  So Saturday morning I gathered up my youngest son and we hopped in the car and headed up to Abrams Creek Ranger Station.  It's only about 30 minutes from my house to the ranger station / campground so it's a good spot for us when we want (or need!) a quick hike.

Cooper Road trail runs from Abrams Creek out to Cades Cove.  On this day we planned to just to a little chunk from Abrams Creek up to the junction with Gold Mine Trail at Cane Gap.  I had done the first mile (up to the junction with Little Bottoms trail & campsite #1) several times before but had never been beyond campsite #1.

Duncan at the trail head

The trail is pretty uneventful.  It wanders through moist areas where creeks cross (or are part of) the trail, and up through drier, piney ridges as well.  From Abrams Creek campground up to Cane Gap the trail is interspersed with short rises and flat spots.  Despite the heat of the day it was fairly cool (but quite humid) along the trail.  Along the way we stopped at Campsite #1 where we stayed last year for Duncan's first backpacking trip.

Duncan at the fire ring in Campsite #1

Toppled tree near where we camped last year

We ultimately arrived at Cane Gap and stopped for a snack, drink and to take some more pictures.

After a short break we turned around and headed back down hill.  We considered going ahead and doing the short (0.8 mi) Gold Mine trail too, but were afraid we were running out of time so decided just to head back.

Despite the fact that the Cooper Road trail is not terribly exciting, it was a fantastic day.  For one, I really needed to just get away.  Hiking is such a primeval pursuit - there's just you and the trail and the forest.  Cares and worries seem to just slip into the background out on the trail.  Secondly, it's always great to get to do something with Duncan.  He's so chipper and enthusiastic.  I can't tell you how many times he said "I just love to hike..."  Music to my ears.  He chatters and jumps and walks on fallen trees and peers under rocks and up hollow trees.  He points out cool plants or bugs or piles of animal poop (we saw a dung beetle with his ball of poop) and asks what plants are called.  His enthusiasm for the simple beauty of the time and place is infectious.  And I needed that.

Til next time, happy hiking.  And when the world has you down, go for a hike.  It'll help - I promise.