Saturday, April 15, 2017

Snake Den Ridge Trail

New Miles Completed: 5.3
Total Miles Hiked: 10.6
Elevation Gain: 3,400 feet!
14 April 2017

Ok - let's just get this out of the way upfront...  The Snake Den Ridge trail is steep...

Trail elevation profile from Hiking Trails of the Smokies
Snake Den Ridge trail starts in Cosby Campground, right near campsite B-51. So you have park in the hiker's parking area at the front of the campground and then walk through the campground to find the trailhead.

At the trailhead - 5.3 miles up to the Appalachian Trail

About the first 0.7 miles of the trail follows an old road. The trail is gravel and wide. Along the way you will pass the Williamson Cemetery on the right side of the trail (as you are ascending). It's a small cemetery of maybe 15 or so graves, mostly folks from the Williamson family. Cemeteries in the Smokies always seem to be carpeted in moss, giving them an odd yellowish green glow.

Williamson Cemetery
At the end of the gravel road section of the trail is a loop turnaround, and from here on out the trail assumes a more typical Smokies trail-like feel. From here to the top the trail is generally a single hiker wide, sometimes smooth, but often rocky and rooty. After leaving Cosby Campground the trail meanders over a couple of watersheds and has its only bridged crossing at Little Rock Creek.

Bridge over Little Rock Creek
From here the trail starts to ascend the flanks of Snake Den Mountain, and follows the crest of the ridge up, ultimately to meet the Maddron Bald trail and then the Appalachian Trail. Snake Den Ridge trail is open to both hikers and horses. In some of the steep and/or muddy areas the horses have a pretty serious impact on the trail.

Horse impacts on the trail

The lower parts of the trail were fairly barren wildflower wise. But through the middle section there were lots of Sweet White Trillium, Phlox, Chickweed, some nice patches of Squirrel Corn, Foam Flower and Bishop's Cap. As I neared the top of the trail, the sides became carpets of Carolina Spring Beauty, and I found some beautiful patches of Trout Lily.


Trout Lily

Sweet White Trillium

A carpet of Carolina Spring Beauty along the upper sections of the trail
There are also some very nice views from rocky outcrops along the trail. As the trail ascends along Snake Den Mountain there are several spots where it rounds the edge of a ridge before ascending further. These edges provide views down into the valley below, especially this time of year when the leaves are still off of the trees.

View down into Cosby
As you near the top, the Snake Den Ridge trail meets up with the Maddron Bald trail. I did the Maddron Bald trail and Albright Grove Loop in December 2016 under very different conditions. December was cold and clear with lows on the trail around 15 degrees F. This day was warm and sunny (I was sweating on my way up!) and a very pleasant day to be out on the trail in shorts and a t-shirt.

Snake Den Ridge - Maddron Bald trail junction
Just 0.7 miles up from this trail junction is the Appalachian Trail and the terminus of the Snake Den Ridge trail. I stopped here and chatted with a few other day hikers who were making a loop out of Cosby up Low Gap - A.T. - Snake Den Ridge; they were also working on completing their maps of the park. Then I got to chat with a couple of section hikers who had started at the southern terminus of the A.T. at Springer Mountain, GA and who were headed up to Hot Springs, NC. It was nice to meet them and hear their stories of the trail.

Snake Den Ridge - Appalachian Trail junction
From here I turned back and headed down the Snake Den Ridge trail back to my waiting car at Cosby Campground. Needless to say going down was considerably easier than coming up. That said, while Snake Den Ridge trail WAS tough going up, it wasn't as difficult as I had feared. It's a bit of a slog in parts for sure, but never did I think I was about to die... The views, the wildflowers, and the sense of accomplishment were my reward.

I am closing in on being half-way done with my quest to hike all the trails in the Smokies.  Most of the Tennessee side of the park is complete, but the North Carolina side of my map looks woefully bare. Going to have to plan some longer excursions and some multi-day backpacking trips to knock out those trails.

Hope you all have had a chance to get out and enjoy the trails and the wildflowers this spring!  Til next time, happy hiking!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Long Bunk Trail

New Miles Completed: 3.6
Total Miles Hiked: 8.2
25 March 2017

This year our wedding anniversary get-away took us to a cabin in Cosby, TN. Since we don't often get over to this side of the park, we wanted to take the opportunity to do a new trail. I picked out the Long Bunk trail as a reasonable out-and-back hike.  It's a 1/2 mile up the Mt. Sterling trail from the road to the beginning of the Long Bunk trail, 3.6 miles down Long Bunk to its junction with Little Cattaloochee trail, and then we retraced our steps.

First things first - Old NC 284, aka Mount Sterling Road is a gravel, winding, narrow mountain road. While it's only about 9 miles from the Waterville exit on I-40, it took a LONG time to drive...

Second - the Mount Sterling trail is steep.  Even though you only have to go up a 1/2 mile, it's up, up, up.

Trail Head for Long Bunk trail at its junction with the Mount Sterling trail

Ok, the Long Bunk trail. This trail is near the eastern boundary of the park. It connects the Mount Sterling trail with the Little Cataloochee trail, and my guess is that most people who do this trail do it as a part of a bigger loop.  It is early spring now, so the trees are all still bare which makes for some cool hiking - you can see a long way through the trees and get a good feel for the lay of the land.

Bare trees = good views through the trees
From the trailhead the Long Bunk trail generally descends through open woods, around and over small ridges, crossing or following small creeks, along the eastern flanks of Long Bunk Ridge.  The trail is at times rough and rocky, but for the most part is reasonably wide and smooth. It's almost never steep, but does have occasional long descents/ascents (depending on which way you are traveling).

Mossy tree trunk along the trail leading down to a creek crossing

One of several very shallow creek crossings
There are several places where the trail crosses very shallow creeks, but these are all easily rock-hopped or just waded through.  Nothing challenging at all. There are some views off to the east to the range of ridges just outside the eastern boundary of the park.  Most of these will be gone when the leaves are back on the trees, but today we could see across the valley to the neighboring ridges.

Metal pieces from some long-forgotten contraption.

This valley was settled prior to the park, and you can see occasional evidence in the form of random pieces of metal, old cans, and rock mounds.  And while it is early spring, there were very few wildflowers out on this trail.  We saw Spring Beauty, Squaw Root, and a few Violets, but nothing else.  There are also a lot of grape vines on this trail, many of which are quite large.

Spring Beauty

Squaw Root
Grape vine climbing a tree
Near the bottom of the trail is one of the historical highlights - the Hannah Cemetery.  It's right on the trail, so you can't miss it.  Not a huge cemetery - maybe 20 or 30 graves, mostly folks from the Hannah family.  Some very old - folks born in the 1830s!  And some pretty recent too, with folks buried here who died in the 2000s.  As with most Smokies cemeteries there are several children, which is always sad to see.

Hannah Cemetery
And just a little further down the trail you reach the junction with the Little Cataloochee Trail and the end of the Long Bunk Trail.  As we were hiking down this section we could hear the bells of the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church which was just a mile or so away.  We stopped here for lunch and a rest.

Long Bunk trail - Little Cataloochee trail junction

Lunch-time selfie!
From here we turned around trudged back UP-hill... The way back up wasn't quite as much fun as the way down, but it was still a beautiful day with a beautiful person celebrating a beautiful marriage. So all is well.

Til next time, happy hiking!