Monday, January 21, 2013

Cooper Road Trail

Cooper Road Trail
New Miles Completed: 5.7
Total Miles Hiked: ~ 13
21 January 2013

Notes to self:
1.  If a trail has a name like "Wet Bottoms," there's probably a reason.

2.  Planning to hike a trail named "Wet Bottoms" a mere day or two after a week-long torrential downpour shows poor judgement.

It's a beautiful day, and it's a holiday so I'm not at work.  What else would I be doing other than hiking?  So my plan was to get up early, drive to Cades Cove and start hiking from the Abrams Falls trailhead parking area.  That way I could do both the Wet Bottoms trail (1 mile) and the unfinished section of the Cooper Road trail (5.7 miles) all in one fell swoop.

Part A of the plan worked beautifully.  I was up and out the door early and made it to Cades Cove around 7:30 am before they even opened the road.  The cove was beautiful this morning - everything was frosty and misty.

Once the sun started to peek over the ridge it lit up the western end of the cove spectacularly.

I hit the Wet Bottoms trail from the Abrams Falls parking area and that's when the trouble started.

Wet Bottoms trailhead @ Abrams Falls parking area

It seems that the Wet Bottoms trail is not especially heavily used.  The trail was not very deeply worn and it was often covered with leaves.  But the real problem is that it really is a WET trail - the whole area is creek surrounded by wetland.  And after the recent rains we've had, much of the trail was a few feet under water.  So I gave up, bushwhacked out to the road and backtracked up to the Cooper Road trailhead.  I'm usually pretty good about thinking about problems like this before the trip, but somehow let it slip this time.

No harm though, other than some lost time and some road walking.

Cooper Road trailhead @ Cades Cove Loop Road

I have previously done the other side of the Cooper Road trail (from Abrams Creek campground to the Beard Cane trail junction), so I just needed this 5.7 mile chunk to finish off this trail.  0.2 miles in from the road is the junction with the Wet Bottoms trail that I would have come in on had the water not defeated me.

The Cooper Road trail really is an old road that ran from the cove down to Maryville.  It is generally wide and occasionally flat, but I still have a pretty hard time imagining trying to drive a horse-drawn wagon along it...  The trail traverses a series of ridges so there is a characteristic pattern to the trail: climb up to the top of a ridge - turn a corner - drop down to the bottom of a draw - cross a creek - climb up to the top of the next ridge, and so on.  The Cooper Road is more like a roller coaster than a road - up and down and up and down.  But rarely is it steep or difficult.

Typical section of the Cooper Road trail

As the trail gets closer to the junction with Beard Cane & Hatcher Mountain trails you start to get into the area that was hard hit by a major tornado in April, 2011.  The sheer number and size of the downed trees is astounding.  There are also quite a few new tree-falls across or near the trail so I was doing lots of bobbing and weaving.

Trees down across trail

Trees bent at right angles by the 2011 tornado

Cooper Road trail finally reaches a gap where it junctions with Beard Cane and Hatcher Mountain trails (both of which are still closed due to downed trees).  I stopped here for some food & drinks and had to put my coat back on once I stopped moving.

While I was here I met another couple of local hikers out for the day.  Other than them I only saw one other group on the trail all day.  It seems like the Cooper Road trail may be used primarily to get from the Cades Cove side to the Abrams Creek side - it's not an especially great destination by itself.  No waterfalls or amazing rock formations, but a historical road that can transport you back 150 years if you'll let it.

It was a beautiful day - chilly, but sunny.  As always it was great to get out and put some trail miles behind me.

Til next time - happy hiking!