Monday, October 20, 2014

Low Gap, Appalachian Trail, & Lower Mt. Cammerer

New Miles Completed: 7.3
Total Miles Hiked: 15.5
17 October 2014

Autumn is the most magical time of year in the Smokies.  Any time of year in the Smokies is wonderful, but the combination of sunshine, cool temperatures, clear skies, and colorful leaves in autumn makes it unparalleled in its beauty.

The new trail miles for this hike were to be found on the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail, a 7.3 mile connector between Cosby and the Appalachian Trail in the northeastern corner of the park.  To make this trek more interesting, and to get to visit one of my favorite spots in the park, I decided to make a loop out of it.  I started at the Cosby campground, went up the Low Gap trail to the AT, across Mt. Cammerer on the AT, and then connected with the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail back to Cosby.

 Trailhead at the hiker parking lot

 Trail junction leading to either Lower Mt. Cammerer or Low Gap trail

 Real beginning of the Low Gap Trail at the edge of Cosby campground

There is a maze of trails around the Cosby campground - the Cosby nature trail, side trails leading to the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail, and to the Low Gap trail.  Luckily, most of the junctions have signs pointing hikers in the right direction.  The trail from the hiker parking area up to Low Gap is 2.9 miles long, and gains about 2000 feet in elevation.  Once you are above the campground, the trail becomes pretty relentlessly uphill.  I was alone, it was early and chilly, and I had fresh legs, so I managed this section in just over an hour, which is a pretty good pace for me.  As Cosby is on the north side of the ridge, this part of the hike was shaded, but as I got closer to the gap I could see the sun peeking through the trees.  Given all the rain we've had over the last few weeks, the bright sunshine was welcome!

 Trail junction with the Appalachian Trail at Low Gap

At Low Gap I turned left (northeast) on the Appalachian Trail, and headed up the flank of Mt. Cammerer.  The AT rises a few hundred feet, and then straddles the ridge for about a mile before it meets the side trail to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower.  This is my favorite kind of trail - high elevation, with great views off to either side, and the sun and the wind in my face.

 View of the Mt. Cammerer ridgeline

 The AT along the crest of Mt. Cammerer.

The side trail to the Mt. Cammerer fire tower is 0.6 miles long, and hugs the northern flank of the ridgeline.  The fire tower itself is, I think, one of the most majestic structures in the park - in part at least because of its setting, jutting out on the very end of a knife-edge ridge at the northeastern edge of the mountain.  The views from here are unparalleled, and the weather cooperated beautifully.  You could see ridge upon ridge of mountains marching away to the east.  The fall colors were in full force as you looked down from the tower to the flanks below.  It was all orange and yellow and red.

 Side trail leading to the Mt. Cammerer firetower

 Mt. Cammerer firetower

 View to the east from the firetower.

 USGS marker - Mt. Cammerer was formerly known as both Sharp Top and White Rocks

 Fall colors...

 Mt. Cammerer selfie
  After taking some time to soak in the views I headed back to the AT, and then down the northeastern side of Mt. Cammerer.  The trail drops fairly steeply here for 2.3 miles to the junction with the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail.  Trail crews have built steps into the trail here.  I'm sure this helps eliminate problems with erosion, but it's rough on the knees.  There is also a neat section in here where the trail hugs the side of a large rock outcrop.  This must have been a sheer cliff at one time, but the CCC built a rock retaining wall to build the trail here, and it's pretty artistic as well as functional!  Once I reached the trail junction I stopped for a snack before heading down onto the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail.

 Curving rock wall to provide trailbed along a sheer rock outcrop.

 Double-blaze at the junction with the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail

 Trail sign at the AT - Lower Mt. Cammerer junction

The Lower Mt. Cammerer trail is a complete contrast with the AT.  While the AT went up and over the top of Mt. Cammerer with ridge top walking, the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail essentially follows a single contour line along the ridge side and weaves in and out at a nearly constant elevation.  The trail here was littered with yellow leaves, and the light filtering through the trees had a pale greenish-yellow tinge.  It was pleasant and easy walking, but not especially striking.

 Typical section of the Lower Mt. Cammerer trail

About 1/2 way between Cosby and the AT is Backcountry Campsite #35.  This site is actually divided up into a couple of subsets of campsites.  Sites D & E are a ways up the hill toward the AT and are meant to accommodate horse-campers, while sites A, B & C are at the bottom of the hill near the creek, and are meant for backpackers.  The upper sites (D & E) were fairly small and didn't look to have very good flat tent sites, although the fire ring looked nice and cozy.  The lower sites (A, B & C) were on the flat next to the creek and looked spacious and good for tents.

 Trail sign for Backcountry Campsite #35

A little over a mile from the Cosby end of the trail is a short (200 yards) side trail uphill to Sutton's Overlook.  This is a flat spot on an outcrop from which you can look back toward Mt. Cammerer.  It was an interesting little side-trip, but nothing to write home about.

 Side trail up to Sutton Ridge Overlook

 View of Mt. Cammerer from the Sutton Ridge Overlook

From here the trail winds its way back to the maze of trails around Cosby campground.  I took a slightly different route back in to the campground that took me over a footbridge over Cosby Creek, and then into the campground itself.

 Trail coming back in to Cosby campground

 Bridge over Cosby Creek

 Cosby Creek

 Trail sign - back at Cosby Campground.

Back to the trailhead and my car, I finished up the 15.5 mile loop.  It was wonderful to get back to the Smokies and get some more miles under my belt.  I've been doing lots of hiking and backpacking lately, but more over on the Cumberland Plateau so I haven't been checking miles off of my quest to finish the trails in the park.  But I'm not in any big hurry...  Any day on the trail is better than a day in the office, and I've got plenty of time.

Hope you all are getting out and doing some hiking this fall to see the beautiful fall colors!  Til next time, happy hiking.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rabbit Creek & Hannah Mountain (partial) trails

New Miles Completed: 7.0
Total Miles Hiked: 14.0
20 January 2014

Started with wet feet, and ended with wet feet…  Everything in between was glorious!

Rabbit Creek trailhead

The Rabbit Creek trail goes between Abrams Creek Ranger Station and Cades Cove.  Hannah Mountain trail goes from Parson Branch road up to Abrams Creek.  Today I did pieces of each, but didn't finish up either of them.

I started early this morning in Cades Cove where the Rabbit Creek trail shares a trailhead with the Abrams Falls trail.  The parking lot was nearly empty when I arrived.  One of the fun things about the Rabbit Creek trail is that it starts off going through Mill Creek.  Not over or around, but through…

crossing of Mill Creek at the beginning of the Rabbit Creek trail

I knew this ahead of time, and was prepared to take off my boots and wade, but then I spied a fallen tree that spanned most of the creek.  With my trekking poles in hand I headed across the fallen tree, hopeful that I'd avoid cold, wet feet.  Sadly, the creek got deeper and my trekking poles didn't reach the bottom. The fallen log got slippery, and kerplunk - I ended up knee-deep in Mill Creek.  I climbed out with nothing hurt, but it was not an auspicious beginning to the day.

Turns out it really didn't matter.  My feet would have gotten wet anyway, as a lot of the Rabbit Creek trail leading up out of Cades Cove is more creek than trail.  Rabbit Creek trail climbs quickly out of Cades Cove to a series of ridges, starting with "Coon Butt" :-)  The trail traverses gently up and down these ridges for a while before ultimately dropping down, down, down toward Rabbit Creek.

the Rabbit Creek trail on the dry, piney Cades Cove side

As the trail drops down into the Rabbit Creek valley it passes Campsite #15.  This is a really nice, open campsite, just up the hill from Rabbit Creek.  It looks to have several reasonable tent sites and a nice campfire area.  Water is easily accessible from Rabbit Creek.

marker for campsite #15

Campsite #15 - campfire area

Directly downhill from the campsite is Rabbit Creek which must be forded / rock-hopped.  By this time my feet were sort of dry-ish after their run-in with Mill Creek and the water laden ascent up the ridges. So I wasn't anxious to get them soaking wet again.  There are a series of well-placed rocks across Rabbit Creek at the ford so one can MOSTLY get across dry.

ford at Rabbit Creek

From here the trail ascends again for about a mile up to Scott Gap where the Rabbit Creek and Hannah Mountain trail intersect.  The Rabbit Creek trail continues on from Scott Gap toward Abrams Creek ranger station, but I turned north on the Hannah Mountain trail towards Abrams Creek.  It's about 1.9 miles from Scott Gap to the junction with Abrams Creek.

Rabbit Creek - Hannah Mountain trail junction

Also a few hundred yards below Scott Gap is Campsite #16. I walked down to the campsite, but I didn't see a whole lot to recommend.  It seems to be on a fairly sloped area and I did not see an obvious water source.

marker for campsite #16

campsite #16

Hannah Mountain trail from Scott Gap north is a pleasant walk through tulip poplar, hemlock and rhododendron.  There are a LOT of downed trees along this section, presumably from the tornado that blew through the area in 2011.  The trail descends gently for the first mile or so, and then begins to really drop on its way down to Abrams Creek.

pretty little waterfall along the Hannah Mountain trail

the final descent to Abrams Creek

I remember seeing this spot from the other side of Abrams Creek about four years ago.  We had camped at Campsite #17 and then hiked up to Abrams Falls, and I remember stopping at the spot where the southernmost section of the Hatcher Mountain trail meets Abrams Creek.  It was cool to see it from the other side of the creek today.

looking across Abrams Creek to Hatcher Mountain trail

I stopped here to soak in some sun, eat lunch and dry out my socks a little.  As I sat I *briefly* contemplated attempting to ford Abrams Creek so I could take the Abrams Falls trail back to Cades Cove.  It would have cut off about 3 miles of walking and would have made a nice loop, but the water was cold and deep in places, and I was alone.  Plus that was NOT the itinerary I had left behind, so if I got into trouble nobody would know where to look for me.  Someday I want to come back and make this ford, but probably in August or September, and certainly not alone.

From here I turned around and retraced my steps.  When I finally arrived back at the trailhead I didn't try the downed tree again.  I simply plunged straight through the creek at the ford.  The water was COLD, but it was quick.  

All in all it was an amazing day to be out in the Smokies.  The sky was blue, the temperature was cool, but sunny, and I really enjoyed hanging out on the banks of Abrams Creek.  Can't believe this is the first time I've checked off any new miles in the park since last June!  Still, I'm making slow and steady progress on completing all the trails in the park.  Looking forward to getting out there again.

Til next time, happy hiking!