Friday, April 22, 2011

Finley Cane - Bote Mountain - Lead Cove trails

Trail Miles Completed: 5.7
Trail Miles Hiked: 9.5
22 April 2011

This loop has been on my list to do for quite a while, and today was "Spring Recess" (aka Good Friday) at school so I took the day to go hiking.  Out of bed at 7, in the car a little after 8, and at the trailhead a little before 9.

I did the Finley Cane trail a few years ago with Jesse on another loop, but I needed to do the Bote Mtn trail (up to Anthony Creek tr) and Lead Cove trail to help finish off this section.

Finley Cane trail starts at Laurel Creek Road about 3/4 of the way from the Townsend Y to Cades Cove.   This particular spot has the trailheads for Finley Cane, Lead Cove, Crib Gap and Turkeypen Ridge trails.  Going up the Finley Cane and connecting to the Bote Mtn and Lead Cove trails makes for a good loop hike.

Finley Cane trail is a very nice easy 2.8 mile trail that winds up and down through beautiful Smokies forest.  The total elevation gain is only 200 feet, and it's never steep. This time of year it's an amazing carpet of wildflowers.  There are huge patches of dwarf crested iris, several different Trillium species, more Squawroot than I've ever seen anywhere in the park, and dozens of other spring wildflowers, not to mention the flowering dogwood, silverbells and magnolias.

It's also both a horse and hiking trail, and the trail was in pretty rough shape from the horses (not to mention the ever present piles of horse crap).  But it's a really pretty trail with several small stream crossings.

About 2 miles in there's a wide spot in the trail where horse folks can tie up their horses and take a break, so I decided to as well.

The Finley Cane trail dead-ends into the Bote Mountain trail.  Stepping onto the Bote Mtn trail the atmosphere immediately changes.

While Finley Cane wends its way through rich woodlands, the Bote Mtn trail is a dry ridge-side walk up along the eastern edge of Bote Mountain.  The trail was originally a road used to reach Spence Field at the crest of the Smokies, presumably to graze cattle in the open meadows at the top of the ridge.  The little brown book tells how the Cherokee workers who were helping to build the road chose this ridge rather than the one further east for the road, but since they couldn't say the letter V they "boted" for this ridge, hence its name.  The alternative ridge became known as Defeat Ridge.

The section of Bote Mtn trail between Finley Cane and Anthony Creek trails is about 3.7 miles long but has 3 distinct sections.  The first mile is unrelentingly uphill and it about kicked my butt.  Luckily there were several great places to stop and look across the valley to Defeat Ridge so I had a good excuse to stop and rest.

The middle 1.5 miles is a nice ridge-top stroll with relatively little elevation change - just some meandering up and down.  The final 1.2 miles (from the Lead Cove trail junction up to the Anthony Creek trail junction) goes back to tough uphill slogging (and presumably the final 1.7 miles of the trail up to the A.T. are also pretty steep).  I enjoy seeing the different kinds of trails in the Smokies.  Finley Cane is dark and damp and the soil is rich and loamy.  Bote Mountain on the other hand is dry, rocky and sandy due to the underlying sandstone and the lack of appreciable accumulation of organic material.

The next waypoint on the trail is the junction with the Lead Cove trail which would be my path back down to my car after I went the 1.2 miles up to the Anthony Creek trail junction.

As I was approaching this intersection I was startled out of my reverie by a doe jumping across the trail not more than 5 feet in front of me - apparently I startled her as much as she startled me!  She didn't go far though, so after I settled down to watch she tentatively came back up on to the trail and let me get her picture.

I stopped for a snack and a drink here before heading the last 1.2 miles UP to the Anthony Creek trail junction.

The wildflowers were very nice along this section of the trail too, with more big patches of dwarf crested iris and a variety of other spring ephemerals.  I finally reached the Anthony Creek trail junction and stopped for lunch.

It was all downhill from here.  I retraced my steps back down to the Lead Cove trail and turned down back toward Laurel Creek Road and my car.  This trail is not long (~ 1.8 miles) but is steep (1200 foot elevation change) so I was happy to be going down instead of up.  Lead Cove trail was also graced with beautiful wildflowers, small creek crossings and beautiful trees.  More Trilliums, Violets, Dogwoods and Magnolias.

At one point the trail skirted a recent blowdown - the root ball of the tree was so big that when it went down it took a chunk of the trail with it.

About 1:30 I made it back to the trailhead and my car.  I finished the 9.5 miles in about 4.5 hours which included LOTS of wildflower watching and photographing and snack breaks.  All in all it was a fantastic day to be out in the park, and the wildflowers were amazing!  I especially recommend the Finley Cane trail for wildflowers - it's got a lot of diversity and is an easy and pleasant trail.

I plan to go back to this area soon - I want to do the Anthony Creek - Russell Field - A.T. - Bote Mtn - Anthony Creek trails loop as an overnight backpacking trip.  I love getting up high in the Smokies and spring is a great time to be out.

til next time, happy hiking!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Geographic Trails Illustrated Explorer 3D Software review

Last summer I saw a post by "Little Bryan" that showed a nice map image with the trail outlined and an elevation profile of his hike.  When I asked how he had created it he told me about the National Geographic Trails Illustrated software.  I finally took some time to research it and was pleased to see that it was both Mac and PC compatible (since I'm a Mac person).  The few reviews I found online were just so-so...  Their were complaints about the speed of the program, and about it's coverage.  The version I got is specifically for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and that's all it covers.  But it wasn't terribly expensive (about $20 including S&H) from the National Geographic store so I figured it was worth a shot.

The day it came in the mail I was very excited.  I immediately loaded it onto my computer and started playing around with it.  The first thing I did was use the embedded menu option to check for program updates which told me that my software was up to date - no new versions available.  And I was deeply disappointed.  It was VERY clunky, very slow, and none of the control buttons along the top of the map were actually functional.  Using keystrokes I was finally able to get it to actually create a map for me, but then there were huge black boxes along the trail that obscured big chunks of the map.  Practically useless.  I was all set to write a scathing review and send it back when I did a little looking on the support page.  It turns out that actually there IS an update for the Mac version to make it compatible with the latest operating system (Snow Leopard, Mac OS 10.6) despite the fact that the program told me that there were no new updates.  Once I installed this update, things started working like they should.  The menu buttons are there and they work.  The trail shows up like it should with small yellow diamonds instead of huge black boxes marking waypoints along the trail.

Here's an example of what I was able to create - a map of a hike I took a couple of years ago up the Middle Prong - Lynn Camp Prong - Miry Ridge - Panther Creek - Middle Prong trails. I like it because it not only shows the actual route, but also provides an elevation profile.

 Ok - so it works like it's supposed to now.  And I'm able to create the kinds of maps I wanted to, and the route finder actually follows the existing trails (rather that having to try to trace them by hand as in the really old versions).  BUT, I'm still not exactly thrilled with it.  First, it's still slow and clunky.  There are long delays between clicking a function button and being able to do that function.  Second, it's not perfect in its tracking of trails.  If you look closely at the picture above you can see regions of the trail that it cuts off (and thus don't get included in the mileage or elevation profile). And as far as I'm aware there's no way to export the maps / elevation profiles as anything other than pdf files or files read by the Trails Illustrated software.  So to get the pic above I had to (1) create the map, (2) export it as a pdf, (3) capture the screen image from the pdf, (4) convert the captured screen image from a tiff file to a jpg file.  Kind of a long process that should be easily done from within the program itself (e.g., "export as .jpg").

There are a number of other things the program does.  You can do "flyovers" - see a 3D rendering of what the trail will look like as you hike it (also slow and clunky and not especially useful).  You can "find" particular features (trails, lakes, etc.) using the Gazetteer feature.  You can import/export GPS data (I haven't tried this feature yet).

So, I think I'm going to keep it and I'll use the clunky work arounds to produce pics I can put up on here, but if you're looking for a really seamless and easy-to-use program, I'm afraid this isn't it.  But as far as I'm aware it is about the only software option out there.  I'd be interested in other users thoughts on this program and/or alternatives.