Friday, March 23, 2012

Sugarland Mountain Trail

New Trail Miles Completed: 12.0
Total Trail Miles Hiked: 12.0
23 March 2012

OH. MY. GOSH.  It's been almost 3 months since I added any new trail miles to my quest.  It's been 2 months since I've been out hiking.  I have been doing lots of running and going to the gym, but it's just not the same...

So finally today I got to get out and do a new hike with my buddy Shane.  Out of bed at 5 am, on the road by 6 am (thanks for the shuttle Sarah K!), and at the trailhead by 8 am.  Sugarland Mountain trail runs for 12 miles from Clingman's Dome Road (~ 6000 feet elevation) down to Fighting Creek Gap on the Little River Road (~ 2300 feet elevation).

Shane & me at the start of our hike

This was a cool trail to do today because spring is definitely here and I wanted to get an idea of how far along the wildflowers are.

Here are some of the flowers we saw today:
Spring Beauty, Sweet White Trillium, Yellow Trillium, Trailing Arbutus, Smooth Rock Cress, Blood Root, Squaw Root, Rue Anemone, Meadow Rue, Speckled Wood Lily, Lousewort, Squirrel Corn, Cut-leaved Toothwort, Mayapple, Large-flowered Bellwort, Trout Lily, and Blue Cohosh.

Trailing Arbutus

Yellow Trillium

The weather today was off and on rain.  Up on Clingman's Dome Road it was foggy and misty in the morning which just added to the Spruce-Fir forest mystique that make the high-elevation Smokies so amazing.  We ran into several AT thru-hikes early on - you have to take the AT for a few tenths of a mile to get to the start of the Sugarland Mountain trail.

Appalachian Trail sign-post

They had all stayed at the Mt. Collins shelter last night and seemed in good spirits despite the early morning rain.

Mt. Collins Shelter

The upper parts of Sugarland Mountain trail meander through Spruce-Fir forest with occasional great views across the valley.

4.8 miles down-trail the Sugarland Mountain trail reaches its junction with the Rough Creek trail.  From a clearing near the trail junction you can look back and see the Chimney Tops.  [and by the way - the trail to Chimney Tops will be closed Mon-Thurs for the 2012 season starting at the end of April]

Sugarland Mtn - Rough Creek trail junction

Chimney Tops

From here the trail continues to descend, and we walked through a couple of amazing wildflower spots.  Spring is SOOOOOO early this year - it's amazing to be seeing Trilliums in March!  For the most part the Sugarland Mountain trail is a "typical" Smokies trail: fairly narrow, eroded a few inches below the surrounding round level, and full of rocks and roots.  It's a well-maintained trail in general, although we did have to cross a number of downed trees of various sizes.

Toward the end of the middle section (between Rough Creek trail & Huskey Gap trail) we stopped at Campsite #21 for lunch.

Campsite #21 marker

There's a lot to recommend about Campsite #21.  Right now the wildflower display is amazing!  It has 2 sets of cables for hanging food away from the bears.  There is a nice water supply now that apparently diminishes quite a bit during the drier months of the year.  The site is situated in a very cool boulder field and there is a LARGE boulder with an overhang that provided a nice respite from the rain today.

Overhanging boulder at Campsite #21

The one thing that Campsite #21 does NOT have?  Any decent tent sites...  The campsite sits on the side of a hill, and amidst a boulder field.  The few flat spots available are (a) very small, and (b) pretty wet during the spring.  It's a really cool site, and would be fun to stay at, but not if you had a lot of people or big tents.

After lazing away an hour or so having lunch and looking at wildflowers we saddled up and headed on down the trail.  Not too long after lunch Shane spotted something off in the woods that just didn't look natural, so (of course!) we had to investigate!  As you can see, it turned out to be...

a "FOR SALE" sign???  How in the world does a for sale sign end up deep in the woods of the Smokies...  Shane reckons that it was brought in by tornado back in April.  Works for me.  Regardless, it's now on it's way to the landfill.

Eventually we reached the Sugarland Mountain - Huskey Gap trail junction which put us just about 3 miles from the end of the trail.

Sugarland Mountain - Huskey Gap trail junction

Along this section there were several nice views back up the valley toward the tops of the mountains, and the wildflowers were just amazing.  By now the rain had pretty much gone away, and the temperatures had warmed up.  What a great way to celebrate the beginning of spring and to get a chance to get out on the trails with Shane.

It will hopefully NOT be another 3 months before I get out on the trails again.  I'm enjoying the beginning of spring already and I'm looking forward to a highly productive spring / summer hiking season!

Til next time - happy hiking!