Saturday, June 10, 2017

Rabbit Creek - Hannah Mountain

New Miles Completed: 7.6
Total Miles Hiked: 20.6
Total Ticks Removed: 6
8-9 June 2017

The southern end of the Hannah Mountain trail has been a hole in my map for a long time. I've done all the trails around it, but never quite managed to complete this one. So I decided to do a short backpack from Abrams Creek Ranger Station up Rabbit Creek  trail to Hannah Mountain trail. I stayed overnight at backcountry campsite #14, and then finished off Hannah Mountain out to Parson's Branch Road, and then back to Abrams Creek.

Rabbit Creek trailhead at Abrams Creek Ranger Station
To get to Hannah Mountain trail I had to travel the Rabbit Creek trail from Abrams Creek to Scott Gap. Rabbit Creek trail starts off with a ford of Abrams Creek. There used to be a footbridge, but it kept washing away so the park decided just to take it out and let folks ford the creek. Even with all of the rain we've had these last few weeks the ford was less than knee deep and not a problem.

Looking back across Abrams Creek to where the bridge *used* to be
After crossing Abrams Creek, Rabbit Creek trail goes through a flat area that used to be settled. You can often tell old home sites in the Smokies by the plants that are left behind. Boxwoods, yuccas, day-lilies...

Day lilies at an old home site
From here Rabbit Creek starts going UP. There's about 1000' of elevation gain over a couple of miles from Abrams Creek up to the top of Pine Mountain. There are parts of this section that are pretty steep.

Going UP Rabbit Creek trail
The western end of the Smokies is drier than the central chain or the eastern end and it has a distinctly different feel from the Cove Hardwood type forests that I think of as "typical" Smokies. The canopy is dominated by pines, oaks, and hickories, and the understory is a near monoculture of blueberries! But there are some nice wildflowers along the way too.


Purple-flowering Raspberry


We've had several violent storms in the area over the last couple of months, you can see the aftermath on the trails.  LOTS of trees blown down over the trail. None that made the trail impassable, but lots the required a detour over, under or around.

Ultimately Rabbit Creek trail crests Pine Mountain and then descends steeply into Scott Gap, the junction of Rabbit Creek trail (coming in from Abrams Creek on one side, and from Cades Cove on the other side), and Hannah Mountain trail. It's 2.7 miles from Abrams Creek Ranger Station to Scott Gap.

Trail junction at Scott Gap
Here I turned south onto the Hannah Mountain trail and started my new trail miles. Hannah Mountain trail gently ascends from Scott Gap through a pleasant pine-oak forest. The trail, for the most part, is in good shape and easy to travel. It's 3.2 miles from Scott Gap to backcountry campsite #14 which was my destination for the night. There's really not a lot to say about this part of the trail. It rises fairly gently following ridge-lines. There are essentially no creek crossings on the trail, even in the draws. It's a pleasant walk, but not much to break up the scenery.

Backcountry campsite #14 at Flint Gap is really more of a wide spot in the trail than a campsite. The trail literally goes through the middle of the campsite which has one small flat area for tents, bear cables, and fire ring all within about a 25-foot radius. It was pleasant and I was the only one there, but it's pretty small and has very limited flat spots for tents.

Backcountry campsite #14

Backcountry campsite #14
The other unfortunate thing about this campsite is that the water source is about a 5-minute walk further up the trail. As I mentioned, this area of the park is fairly dry with few creeks or springs. According to the Little Brown Book there is an unreliable spring just below the gap that campsite #14 sits in. I looked for a little bit to see if I could find it, but no luck so I headed on down the trail. The water source is a small creek in a draw and had a nice pool that was 3 or 4 inches deep - easy to filter water from. BUT it's been a wet spring and it's still this shallow. I can imagine that in August or September of a dry year that this might completely dry up, and it's the ONLY water source on this whole trail.

Water source for campsite #14
I spent a pleasant evening reading (Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey) until it got too dark, and then sat and enjoyed a campfire. I tried out hammock camping on this trip - I'm usually a tent camper, but thought I'd give the hammock a try to see if I like it. Not sure what I think yet - I'll have to give it another shot. I was a bit chilly so I didn't sleep great. Not sure if the hammock contributed to my lack of sleep, or just the temperature.

Friday morning I broke camp and headed out to finish off the remaining 4.4 miles of Hannah Mountain trail. From campsite #14 the trail ascends about 800' over about a mile and half before leveling out on a ridge top. This section of the trail seemed rarely traveled. It was overgrown in many places with the blackberry brambles, wild hydrangea bushes and greenbriar vines crowding into the trail (I was wearing shorts and my legs are pretty scratched up). There were some botanically interesting sights along the way:

Stump sprouts from an American Chestnut tree

REALLY big old Tulip Poplar tree


Flame Azalea
Parts of the trail are ridge-side walking, with a narrow footbed, and often along fairly steep banks. Combined with the overgrown shrubs and the occasional blow down it made for challenging walking in part. Other sections are open piney woods with a wide and even trail on a carpet of pine needles - easy and pleasant walking. Ultimately the trail descends to its terminus at Parson's Branch Road that comes up out of Cades Cove (as of this writing Parson's Branch Road is closed to vehicular traffic because of downed trees). I stopped here for a snack and a drink and to sit and read a while before heading back.

The end of Hannah Mountain trail at Parson's Branch Road

Hannah Mountain trail sign

A deer that kept me company while I sat and read.
After sitting and reading and snacking and relaxing for a half hour or so I reluctantly saddled up again to head back the 10.3 miles to Abrams Creek and my car. I really need to be better about figuring out how to do these trips as loops or shuttles instead of "out and back" trips. To do the 7.6 miles of Hannah Mountain trail I ended up hiking 20.6 miles, including 14.7 on Friday!

I made it back safe and sound, and was happy to put my tired feet into the cool waters at the ford of Abrams Creek.

Selfie in the middle of the Abrams Creek ford
I recently crossed the 50% mark in terms of trail mileage for the park. I've also completed nearly all of the trails on the Tennessee side and plan to finish the rest of those off this summer. Time to start taking longer backpacking trips over on the North Carolina side! I'm looking forward to exploring that part of the park - it will all be new territory for me.

Til next time, happy hiking!

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