Total Miles Hiked: 20.6
25-26 July 2019
My map on the TN side is pretty well filled in, but still have lots of trails to do on the NC side. This week I did a nice 20 mile loop from Clingmans Dome down into the NC side. Started at Clingmans Dome, hiked down Forney Ridge trail to Springhouse Branch trail to Forney Creek trail and stayed the night at campsite 70 (Jonas Creek). Then hiked up the rest of Forney Creek, and up the Clingmans Dome bypass trail and down the Clingmans Dome "trail" (paved walkway). I've been to Clingmans Dome and out to Andrews Bald several times, but never checked those sections off of my trail list.
|Clingmans Dome road on a beautiful sunny afternoon|
|Forney Ridge trailhead @ Clingmans Dome parking lot|
Along the side of the trail (and all over Clingmans Dome) the Filmy Angelica is starting to flower. The bees & wasps LOVE this plant and congregate on the flowers. This is a high-elevation specialist and is also known as the Mountain Angelica.
|Filmy Angelica in flower|
|Forney Ridge - Forney Creek trail junction|
|Exiting the Spruce-Fir forest out onto Andrews Bald|
|View from Andrews Bald|
|Forney Ridge trail sign at the bottom of Andrews Bald|
|Forney Ridge trail / creek - it was WET!|
Forney Ridge trail drops through the Spruce Fir forest and then into a drier oak / rhododendron / mountain laurel forest as it passes by Buckhorn Bald and approaches Board Camp Gap and its junction with Springhouse Branch trail. Through this lower section there are LOTS of American Chestnut stump sprouts, a few of which reached 6 inches in diameter and up to about 15 feet tall. The story of the demise of the American Chestnut is one of the saddest invasive species stories there is. The character of the North American eastern deciduous forest was forever changed by the accidental introduction of a fungal disease from Asia. You can read more about this story at the American Chestnut Foundation site.
|American Chestnut stump sprout|
|Fresh bear scat on Forney Ridge trail|
|Trail erosion on lower Forney Ridge trail|
|Forney Ridge - Springhouse Branch trail junction|
|Springhouse Branch trail overgrown with Dog Hobble|
Not much remarkable to say about Springhouse Branch trail - maybe because by this time of the day I was just trudging along and wading through the overgrown underbrush. The trail tends to stay on the ridge above Bee Gum Branch, so you can hear the creek, but don't get many views.
Right at the end of Springhouse Branch trail where it junctions with Forney Creek trail is backcountry campsite 71. This is the site of an old CCC camp, and there's plenty of evidence of it, including an amazing old chimney still standing in the middle of the site! The campsite is big and open with LOTS of spaces for tents and a few separate fire rings. Lots of neat history to explore and artifacts to enjoy.
|Backcountry campsite 71|
|Springhouse Branch - Forney Creek trail junction|
From here I just had 1.2 miles up Forney Creek to the Jonas Creek trail and campsite 70 which was where I was spending the night. This lower part of Forney Creek trail was also overgrown in places. Sometimes you are right next to the creek, other times on the ridge above it. The trail has obviously been re-routed a few times in a few different places too. Sometimes this was quite obvious with signs and logs across the old trail, and other times not quite so obvious... I missed on of the re-routes and took the old trail through a very steep, rutted section for about a 1/2 mile.
|More Dog Hobble encroaching on the lower Forney Creek trail|
|Forney Creek - Jonas Creek trail junction|
|Bridge over Forney Creek at Jonas Creek trail junction|
|Backcountry campsite 70 - Jonas Creek|
Friday morning I got up and got breakfast and coffee, packed up and got ready to go. I was a little apprehensive about the day. I knew that there were several un-bridged creek crossings on Forney Creek and we had a lot of rain in the previous few weeks so the water was high.
|Five of the unbridged water crossings on Forney Creek trail|
The water crossings turned out not to be a big deal. For the first two I stopped, took off my boots, put on my water shoes, waded across, stopped, and put my boots back on. That got old, so after the first couple I just walked through, boots and all. So I had wet boots for the rest of the day... The first two crossings were about thigh-high (the bottom of my shorts got wet, but not all the way up to my waist), the next two were about knee-high, and the others could be rock-hopped.
From Jonas Creek back north the Forney Creek trail generally follows Forney Creek, but is not always right next to it, and is often on the ridge-side high above the creek. The trail is sometimes rocky with river rocks, sometimes smooth and fern-lined. The primary foliage along the trail is Rhododendron and Dog Hobble. There are lots of switch backs as the trail ascends the ridge, and lots of rock walls on what was once a railroad bed for the pre-park logging industry.
A couple of miles above Jonas Creek you reach backcountry campsite 69. The campsite is right of the side of the trail and has kind of a run-down feel to it. There are several different fire rings and a couple of bear cables, but it's very bare and didn't seem terribly inviting.
|Backcountry campsite 69 on Forney Creek trail|
A couple of miles above this, I was kind of confused when I reached the "campsite 68" site pictured below complete with the old style metal sign campsite marker. According to my map I shouldn't have been at campsite 68 yet, but here was the sign and right behind it a campsite, right at a spot where the trail takes a hard left. It's a very small site with room for just 1 or 2 tents, and a set of bear cables. It does sit right on Forney Creek and has a trail that runs out the backside that seems to follow the creek.
|Backcountry campsite 68 - part 1|
|Backcountry campsite 68 - part 2|
From campsite 68 on up Forney Creek trail gets much steeper as it climbs up toward Clingmans Dome. The trail returns to the rocky, wet, and sometimes narrow and eroded character. This section was tough both mentally and physically, but I slogged on.
|Upper end of Forney Creek trail - rocky and wet|
|Abandoned steam engine from logging operations|
|Forney Creek - Forney Ridge trail junction|
From here I headed back up the Forney Ridge trail, retracing my steps from yesterday, back to the junction with the Clingmans Dome Bypass trail. I've been up Clingmans Dome many times on the paved "nature trail", but had never done the bypass trail, so I took this opportunity to knock it out. It was just another 1/2 mile, right?
|Clingmans Dome Bypass - Forney Ridge trail junction|
|Clingmans Dome Bypass trail|
|Clingmans Dome Bypass - Appalachian Trail junction|
|View to the north from the AT near Clingmans Dome|
|White blaze of the Appalachian Trail|
The AT passes directly by the Clingmans Dome tower. I stopped to climb the tower one more time - it was a good day for views, with relatively little haze. Lots and lots of folks had made the walk up the paved trail to see the views from the tower on this beautiful summer day.
|Side trail from the AT to Clingmans Dome tower|
|Selfie from Clingmans Dome tower.|
I hiked back down the paved trail to the parking area, and then another half mile back down to my car parked on the side of the road. I was tired - that was a tough section, but so beautiful and challenging! Glad to be getting to spend some time on the NC side, on some sections of trail that are less well-traveled.
Til next time, happy hiking!