Sunday, September 20, 2015

Chimney Tops Trail 9-7-2015

It was time for my wife and I to head off on a trip.  Our third wedding anniversary was coming up and we both desperately needed to get away.  That is one of the good things about living where we do, the Smoky Mountains, the most visited park in the USA is about two hours from our home.  So any time we get a wild hair to go on a hike, it is not that long of a drive.
Borrowed from definitely want
to make sure that I give full credit for 
Ever since we first started dating, there have been trails that we have wanted to do, Bridal Veil Falls, Savage Falls, Abrams Falls and others come to mind.  Chimney Tops has been on the list for a while now, but for some reason we just never took the time to go.  I made sure that it would be on our list for this vacation; as a matter of fact, I wanted it to be the first trail that we hit on this vacation.  So we loaded up the car and worked it out with our hotel to have an early check in and went to Gatlinburg.  We made good time and stopped at the Subway in Townsend for a lunch sandwich, hey when a craving for Subway hits I guess it has to answered, and made it to the room by 1.30.  We had our stuff unpacked and backpacks in the car and were back on the road by 2.  I began to worry after we passed the Sugarlands Visitor Center and all the signs about road work between there and Cherokee NC began to show up, but hey, it was Labor Day and surely they would not be doing road work on Labor Day.  Right?  

Sign at the Trail Head
After the 7 mile trip from the Sugarlands, I discovered that I was right, they would not be doing road work on Labor Day.  The problem was, it was Labor Day and the parking lot was at capacity, even beyond capacity.  There were people parked every where and every which way.  I told my wife that I might not have thought this trip through as thoroughly as I had imagined.  She just laughed and said we would find a spot.  I had to drive over the loop before I could find a place to turn around and then waited for what felt like an hour before I could pull back out on the road to drive back to the parking area.  I got lucky and was able to parallel park across from the parking lot and we did not have to walk from the spiral like  some people did.

We walked over to the start of the trail and began going down.  There were several groups of people coming out, and that gave me hope that the trail would not be crowded and that we were going to have the Tops with minimal people.  I could see the new bridge that the Trails Forever people put in and it has to be one of the nicest hiking bridges I have seen.  I was duly impressed.  But it is a narrow bridge.  I had my new Osprey Exos 48 Backpack on, filled with my day hike choices, along with a 2 Liter bladder, and my full Trangia kit and was a little wide for some of the more wider people standing on the bridge.  I had to grab the bottom of my pack with one hand and shove it up over the railing, turning sideways and hang my pack over the rail to squeeze by them.  I must not have said, "Excuse me," loud enough, but I did try and give them a pleasant smile.  After crossing the first bridge, the trail goes to the right and across another bridge.  I liked the view from this bridge more than the first due to Road Prong cascading down the mountains to join the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River.  Then the trail turns back left and goes up a ridge before coming to bridge number 3 over Road prong and climbing again.  Then after about 0.8 of a mile, the trail goes over bridge number 4, which is another scenic little setting.  There were several groups of people here taking pictures and splashing in the water.

The sign at the split, Chimney Tops goes right
The Stairs
After 0.9 miles, the trail splits.  Chimney Tops Trail goes off to the right, while Road Prong Trail goes strait to link up with the AT in 2.4 miles.  I knew that we would be climbing up the mountain the entire trail.  I knew that it was a practical 1,500 foot climb from the bridge to the top.  I was expecting an uphill slog the entire way, and I knew that it was a steep climb.  I can deal with the climbs, I do not mind following a trail all the way up to the top of a mountain, but after turning on to the Chimney Tops Trail proper, we ran into something that I was not expecting at all.  Something that takes the wind right out of my sails and leaves me begging for mercy.  Torture devices that are guaranteed to have me crying for Momma.  We found, stairs!  I am making it sound a lot worse than it really is.  The stairs are nice and made out of stone found, I assume, on the mountain or close by.  Without these stairs, the trail would not be hikeable at all.  The rain would wash the trail away to nothing in one season I would assume without these stairs.  My heart does go out to the men and women who had to carry all of those stones though and lay them into place.  According to one older hiker that we ran into, there were 437(ish) stairs that one has to climb.  I would say it was the stairs that made this trail more friendly.  We met lots of people encouraging us that we were almost there, and saying how wonderful the view was today.  We would take breaks to let families pass us and they would all say hi and how great the view was.  Before reaching the stairs, not many fellow hikers would even say hi to us as we passed, and I like to try and be a friendly hiker and speak to everyone, even if it is just to say hi.  My dad swore I would grow out of it when I was younger.  We spoke to a couple who we had passed and then passed us in turn.  I told them we were going to leap frog the rest of the way.  The woman laughed.  She asked everyone she saw how much longer it was to the top.  When my wife and I left them, we went a little ways before running into the step counting man mentioned earlier.  I made sure to have him tell her she was about there.
View right before the rain.

The problem with the stair section is that there are not any real views to be had.  The stairs climb up by a stream for most of their way.  The Pale Jewelweed was in bloom when we went and it made the trek a little nicer having all of the yellow flowers lining our way.  We even stopped and watched a bee go in and pollinate a couple flowers while we were chugging water on one of our stops.

After about 0.9 miles, the trail tops out.  There is a view looking out over the mountains.  Then the trail evens out for the last .2 miles.  I felt like I was walking the knife's edge of the mountain in this spot as we were literally on the top of the mountain going for the tops.  I loved it.  There were several larger groups of people at the tops when we arrived.  Many were sitting at the bottom drinking water and eating snack.  Many more were up on the tops lounging around and laughing.  I pulled my camera out and took the picture to the right and turned to my wife and asked if she was read.  At that moment, it started to pour the rain.  I dropped my pack and grabbed my rain jacket and my pack cover and slid them on fairly quickly and my wife did the same with hers.  People started scrambling down from the top, I watched an older couple ease their way down and slide to a stop on the roots in the picture.  Many people just slid and jumped their way down the rocks.  I stood there with my First Aid senses going bezerk.  I just knew someone was going to take a bad tumble off those rocks and get hurt.  Thankfully, no one was injured at all.  Then except for another couple who had came up when we did, we were the only people on the tops.  I couldn't help but laugh when my wife said that the blog was living up to its name in this situation.  Then, just as suddenly as it came, the rain quit.  I could not come here and not try to climb some part of the rocks.  My wife said she was not interested at all in going all the way up.  With my fear of heights, I knew I was not going to the top, but I had to climb some of the tops.  Even in my high top hiking boots, I was sliding on some of the rocks and knew better than to push my luck.  I climbed less than half way looked around and then came back down.  The bottom picture is looking back down the towards the first picture.  The rocks do not look it, but trust me it was slippery.

So, with us reaching the end of the trail and setting foot on one of the few clear mountain tops in the Smoky Mountains, my wife and I headed back towards the car.  It was a tough hike, I will not lie to you.  The uphill trudge goes on and on and on, but if you tough it out and make it to the top, the effort is worth it.  Even with the rain and the cloudy views, I enjoyed this trail.  The steps are uneven and not at all level, so if stairs give you trouble, you may want to keep that in mind.  People say that if you do not go out onto the tops you are cheating yourself, but I know my limits and I know the conditions of the day that I went and I am super satisfied with my experience.  I would recommend this trail to anyone looking for a little adventure, or to those who just like to get out and climb a mountain from time to time.  If you feel like seeing a waterfall after hiking to the top, turn right when you come to the trail sign again.  There are two waterfalls to see.  One is about 0.3 miles up and the other is roughly 0.6 miles up the trail.  We did not hike to the falls and we have not seen them, I am just letting you all know that they are there.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Old Copper Road Hike

Trail Head from the Ocoee Whitewater Center
Creek that is crossed right after starting tail
 Way back in January of this year, I thought it would be a great idea for me and my wife to buy an annual pass to the Cherokee National Forest.  A one time fee of $30 instead of always having to pay at least $3 any time we went somewhere in the National Forest.  Wonderful I thought!  Great idea, so I went and bought it, without thinking about my wife being in a Master's Business Program.  Until this hike last weekend, we had only used the pass one time.  I still believe it is a good investment since it also works at the boat dock and shooting range.  I need to check the scope on my deer rifle before the weekend before Thanksgiving so I know there's another $3 saved.
Bridge at the One Mile Marker
     So with the semester just beginning, we took off to the mountains.  I have wanted to hike this trail for a while.  It is one of those tantalizing close trails that is there and we all know about but somehow never manage to hike.  No more, I said.  Surely my wife, Mia the Hiking Chihuahua and I could handle a 4.6 mile round trip trail.  I packed my 15 year old Eureak! 2500 day pack and loaded my two new el' cheapo trekking poles into the car and we were off.  Since an Orthopedic Doctor said I tore my meniscus hiking at Rainbow Falls last year, I had been meaning to buy trekking poles but didn't really want to lay out the cash for some good ones in case I did not care for them.  So I bought some poles that are $16 a piece and thought that I would give them a shot before I bought some Leki or Black Diamonds.  The problem is nature was calling when we got to the Whitewater Center and in my rush, I forgot bag, water, and poles in the car.  Then after watching several different rafts go through the rapids at the foot of the Center and buying a Trails Illustrated Map for the Ocoee-Tellico Region, they were all forgotten and the hike begun.
Trail going through the woods
     The trail begins just east of the large suspension bridge that spans the Ocoee River just above the welcome center.  It starts with an easy downhill grade to a water crossing that can be rock hopped to stay dry.  Along much of its route, the trail follows the Ocoee River and we several different rafting companies going down the Upper/Olympic part of the river.  The whole trail system at the Whitewater center is also open to mountain bikers.  They generally prefer the trails across the river, but we did see all of five bikers this day.  They were nice and all spoke as they passed.  We yielded the right of way to them instead of them yielding to us, but hey we all have to make the world go round.

After a mile we came to the first bridge.  It was pretty neat for me to see this style of bridge on the trail.  There is also the little hiking man mile marker just before the bridge with the Purple i trail marker.  To the left of the bridge, if the Whitewater Center is behind you, a stream comes running down the mountain.  It creates a nice series of little cascades as it flows under the bridge.  The trail here begins to veer away from the river for about a half mile.  Walking through the forest, you can still hear the river running over the rocks but the sound of cars on Highway 64 also become more pronounced as the make a pull up the ridge.  Also along the way there are a couple of side trails leading off to benches and interpretative markers telling some of the history of the area and the old road.
Trail Head from Ocoee Dam #3
     After the 2.3 miles, the trail ends at the raft put in for the upper section of the Ocoee.  If you wanted to do a shuttle hike and drive two cars so that you do not have to turn around and hike the 2.3 miles back, the area is by the Boyd Gap Overlook on Highway 64.  As the picture shows there is a kiosk, restrooms, parking area, picnic tables, and, of course, a raft put in.  Jackie and I wanted to walk over to the put in and see Ocoee Dam Number 3, something that I had never seen before.  There were a couple of outfitters getting ready to take some groups out when we arrived.  One of the guides asked if we wanted him to take Mia, the Hiking Chihuahua, down with him and meet us at the bridge.  We declined, much to the relief of Mia and his passengers.  We sat there and watched the people set off on their rafting trips.  We had a short talk with a guy working sweeper for one of the groups.  He took a kayak and floated behind the rafts to help out in case anyone got into trouble or there was an emergency on the river.  He seemed like a nice enough guy.  I was really beginning to wish I had my backpack with its 2 liters of water and packs of crackers and almonds by this time.  So we headed back to the car, a little over 3 miles away.  Jackie let me lead and I set a pretty fast pace, even carried Mia to help us out.  All I have to say is that we beat the guide who offered Mia a ride back to the Whitewater Center with time to spare.  We were sitting on the wall drinking an over priced Power Aid and watching the rafts go down the first set of rapids when he yelled hey and we waved back to him.  Overall it was an enjoyable hike and well worth the effort we put into it.  If I had it to do again, I would make sure to grab my backpack before we started the trail.
     History Note:  The Old Copper Road used to be THE road to get copper from Copperhill, TN to the railroad at Cleveland, TN.  Once the L&N made the Hook and Eye Route operational between Etowah, TN and Blue Ridge, GA the road received less copper transport, but still was the main thoroughfare.  With the advent of the Highway system, much of the Old Copper Road became buried under Highway 64, except for this little 2.3 mile section.  Some times on these hikes it fun to imagine wagons loaded with goods pulled by teams of horses going down by a river that was wild and free; long before TVA and it's predecessors the Eastern Tennessee Power Company built dams to harness the river for its power.  One of the many reasons I hike, to experience a part of history that has gone away and can only be found in one's imagination or old books.  If this sounds like something that interests you dear reader, then maybe this is a trail for you.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cumberland Trail Graysville Mountain Segment

     With my wife's summer classes over and me having a weekend off from work, we decided it was time to go hiking again. Between her school and my work schedule, we have not had much time to get away from the house other than for the necessary trips.  I began looking for the place to go and a new waterfall on Tuesday and by Wednesday had decided on the Cumberland Trail.  I will confess that I am developing a love hate relationship with this trail.  I love it because it is a long distance trail within Tennessee, and like the Benton MacKaye Trail, is only about an hour, probably less, from my house.  I also love the views you get from being on top of the plateau and the many waterfalls that the trail goes by.  See it is these waterfalls that help me to convince the wife that we should hike on this trail. If the Benton MacKaye Trail had as many waterfalls close by we would probably have hiked more of it.  The hate part of the relationship is that it is incomplete. I know it takes years to finalize a trail's path and even then it is changed over time, but the Cumberland Trail Conference appears to only be working on connecting the northern end of the trail. Now before I go too far, I don't want people to think I do not know about or have forgotten the 30 miles of trail in the Three Gorges Section, because I haven't. It is just that other than that and the Mullen's Cove Loop there are not any substantial parts of the trail connected below Crossville.  I really appreciate all of the hard work that the trail crews and the trail maintainers put into keeping the trail open for everyone to enjoy.  I guess I am part of the Gimme Generation and wish that the trail was open NOW, but I know that once it is completed it will be a trail that has been well worth the wait.
This is a screen capture of my track using the AllTrails app
This is the trail map given by the Cumberland Trail Conference on their website
     We were dog sitting for the in-laws this weekend and it took us a little longer to get their dog ready to go on the hike.  In thinking that I wanted to ditch my roughly 15 year old Eureka! day pack, I decided to use my Jansport Carson 90 liter external frame pack.  That was an interesting decision.

The Trail head
I was definitely over packed for what I needed for the day!  I was carrying 2 liters of water in my hydration bladder, an ENO double nest and straps, an ENO Pro Fly, first aid kit, another liter of water and a smalbowl for the dogs, some tp, snacks, and about 85 liters of air.  But hey if we never experiment, we never know what will work and what won't.  After looking at the CT's website and watching a YouTube video I knew that the trail started out fairly level so I wasn't too worried about getting the pack dialed in completely before we took off.  When we got to the trail head, I was happy to see that we were the only car there.  Being a nice weekend I was afraid that the trail would be crowded, but it was not.  My wife says that it was because we went hiking instead of shopping on tax free weekend.  To each their own I guess.  One thing to note, cars need to be careful pulling in to the parking area as the gravel is washed away from the pavement and the right hand side has a larger drop off than the left, as of our trip.  I made sure to ease the Cobalt down off the road.
     The trail began fairly level on an old roadbed.  The dogs loved running back and forth from one side of the road to the other.  My in-law's dog stayed in the bushes for most of this part of the hike and we had to pull some ticks off of him because of it.  The trail parallels a stream with some wet weather 
The Right Hand Turn about .8 miles from Trail Head
streams crossing the trail after heavy rains.  It was a nice hike.  The gravels in the road are fairly well compacted so you do not have to worry about turning an ankle or anything of that nature.  The road forms a Y and we followed the solid white blazes to the right and began a slightly higher climb.  It was after this turn that I began to get antsy about making sure we did not miss the cut off to the right before we began our climb up the plateau.  For some reason this really concerned me this day.  But after about a mile from the car, we saw it.  The two white markers were clearly visible, as was the trail.  My wife looked at it and said, "So I guess we go up now?"  I just smiled back and the dogs took off.  Some parts of the CT that we have been on have very steep ascents/descents and I was slightly concerned how this one might be, but it was the smoothest climb we have had to date.  I also enjoyed the air being a little cooler as we climbed.  For the most part, the trail is like the picture to the left, but after about a mile, we came to a grassy grown up area on the trail.  The grass was about knee high and quite unexpected.  My wife picked up Mia and carried her through this patch to help prevent the possibility of ticks.
     After about a mile and a quarter, I could hear the waterfall, which was the second reason I chose this trail to hike.  We were coming around a bend in the trail and could just make out the stream from the bottom of the waterfall when my brain screamed STOP!  So I stopped and looked down.  There laid out in on the side of the trail with the in-law's dog standing beside it was a five foot long black snake sunning itself.  I called the in-law's dog back to me and began to check the snake out.  I looked to see if it was digesting anything, but saw no large lumps along its length.  Then I looked to see if it was shedding its skin, which it wasn't.  I said, "Well snake will you let us pass or do we need to take the long way around?"  I took a step towards it, but like I was walking past it, and it took off like a shot down the side of the trail and back to the creek.  Both dogs finally saw the snake at that point.  I put my heart back in my chest and we walked over to the waterfall.  It was running fairly well and my wife got several good shots of it with her camera.  I was having to hold the dogs and had forgotten my camera at home.  The previous shots were all taken with my iPhone and I just have never been able to master taking a good waterfall picture with a phone.  So we hit the waterfall at about a mile and a quarter, like I said earlier.  We rested for about five minutes and went on.
     I knew that at two miles, according to the mileage listed on the CT's website, that there would be an overlook.  I mentally picked the overlook as my turn around spot.  The trail runs for a total of about 5 miles, but we were not physically ready for a 10 mile day and neither were the dogs.  So we hiked on.  The trail got a little rougher here.  There were rocks that we had to go between and climb over; nothing too hard just large enough rocks to make the trail interesting and the trail was well marked in this area.  I knew that we had made a decent climb up from the car so far and was beginning to feel it.  The trail began to switchback more that it had previously.  My special day pack was letting me know it was there.  I checked my phone and we had hit the two mile mark.  Thinking that my phone was off, I asked my wife what her Fitbit told her she had walked and it said two miles as well.  Then both dogs laid down in the trail.  They just decided they were done.  I pulled out the water and bowl and gave them some more water.  We all sat down then and took about a ten minute break.  Mia the Hiking Chihuahua was ready to get back on the trail but my Scout, the in-law's dog, was ready to go to the car.  I looked at the map and figured that we had at least a quarter of a mile more before we made it to the overlook.   I knew then that either the mileage on the website was a tad bit off or our two mileage trackers were off, possibly even both.  So, without making it to the overlook, we decided to go back to the car.  The trip back to the car was just as enjoyable as the trip up the side of the plateau, just without any snake sightings.  On the whole, I would love to do this hike again, maybe catch it after a couple of days of good rain as there is another waterfall a little ways after the first overlook.  Maybe this section will be linked with another soon and some overnight camping would be in order, you know so that I could possibly have a real reason to be carrying that 90 liter pack.

Directions:  From Soddy Daisy, continue north on 27, turning left onto TN 303 for 0.4 mile, then right onto Dayton Avenue (still TN 303).Take the first left onto Pikeville Avenue for 1.6 miles as the road becomes Pikeville Blvd./Brayton Mountain Road. Just after a sharp curve left, the dirt and gravel parking area for the trailhead is on the right. The Foot, a local bar, is a cinder-block building on the left. (Borrowed from the CT website).  I just put 1721 Brayton Mountain Rd, Graysville, TN into my GPS and it got me there.  I did watch the linked video a couple of times just so I knew what to look for.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book(s) Review!

     Hello everyone!  With the rain coming down and a ton of MBA homework to be done, there was no hiking trip this week.  An unfortunate occurrence, but hey life happens every now and then and we have to roll with the punches.  So while my wife works on her homework, I thought I would do some book reviews that I have been planning for a while.  The reviews will focus on the books I most use for planning our hiking adventures
     I will start off with the book that started it all, Cherokee National Forest Hiking Guide edited by Jim Casada.  I consider this to the the trail bible of MOST of the trails in the Cherokee National Forest.  I have only used the half of the book dealing with the southern half of the forest so I cannot comment on how it handles the northern part.  I find that this book does a good job describing the trails and giving mileage that is fairly close to what we step off on a hike.  One of the things I like about this book is that the authors tell you what to expect on the trail without giving anything away.  Some book are written in a way that after you read the description, there's no point in going on the hike due to every little detail being given out.  That is not the case with this book.  The down side to this book is the maps.  Just a general over view with dotted lines and numbers showing the trail.  I would not use the maps in the book to direct me on trail.  Plus at a total 566 pages long, it is a little heavy to carry on the trail; even though I have done it.  The directions to the trail head are written in a strait forward and easy to follow manner.  Just make sure to watch the odometer if they list miles to a turn!  If there is any interest at all in hiking the Cherokee National Forest, pick this book up.  I linked it to Amazon, but bought mine at Books-A-Million and have seen several copies at the National Forest Office in my town.  I give this book 4 1/2 stars.
     Jackie bought the next book, Waterfalls of Tennessee by Gregory Plumb.  It is an ok trail book.  She loves to go to waterfalls on hikes.  She loves them so much, that in the 7 years we have known each other we have been to 57 waterfalls and counting (that total does not count the repeat hikes we have taken to some of the falls).  The book is good for a general overview of where the falls are located and how the trail is getting there.  I do find Mr. Plumb's ratings of the waterfalls to be fairly accurate.  If he says there isn't much to see, then unless the creek/river is in flood stage, there isn't much to see.  The trail descriptions are just blurbs and do not count on using the maps while on the trail.  The driving directions are okay at best.  There have been a couple of times while going to the some of the falls in the book that I had to turn around or stop and ask locals for directions due to how they are written in the book.  It would have been helpful to have a GPS location of the trail head listed, but they are not.  Just a throwback to the days of paper maps, no GPS, and cheap gas I guess.  Please don't think I hate this book, it is nice for what it is and that is a book all about waterfalls and a general way of how to get there.  I used this book to find Lula Lake Waterfall on Lookout Mountain and Falling Water Falls in Walden, TN.  If you want more details of the hike, you need to buy another book dealing with the area where you will be hiking.  I give this book 3 stars.
     After stumbling upon Savage Gulf's Stone Door, Jackie and I stopped on the way home and bought, 40 Hikes in Tennessee's South Cumberland  by Russ Manning.  This is a slim book coming in at a total 141 pages with some blank pages in the back for notes.  The book deals with a selective list of hikes south of I-40 on the Cumberland Plateau.  This book walks the fine line of a detailed trail description and giving the hike away.  There were a couple of times that I felt a little less info could have been given an the description would not have been the worse for ware.  Mr. Manning gives mileage, that again is close if not right on to what I get, and a difficulty rating of the trail.  Pay attention to the rating, I have found that Mr. Manning is a fair trail rater.  There are maps included before each section being discussed.  In a pinch, and I have done this as well, the maps can be used on the trail.  The maps are not super detailed, but they are workable.  With the Cumberland Tail Conference working hard to finish their trail and the book being published in 2000, the information in the book is now a little dated.  It is still a very serviceable book though.  Some trails will not change, like those in the State Parks or the trails around Sewanee, but just check the Cumberland Trail Conference page before hitting any of their trails from the North Chickamauga Pocket Wilderness northward.  I really enjoy this book and use it to plan my trips in Savage Gulf.  I give this book 4 1/2 stars.
     The next two book really go together, Hiking Tails of the Smokies and Waterfalls of the Smokies both published by Great Smoky Mountain Association.  These are top notch trail books.  A lot of people call Hiking Trails of the Smokies the Trail Bible of GSMNP.  Each and every trail of the park is listed in detail.  Each trail comes with an elevation profile, so you know what you are getting into, and a trail rating.  Since Jackie likes to hike to waterfalls, I use both books to plan out the hike.  I like how one plays off of the other.  For a quick overview of what we will be getting into, I look over the waterfalls, but for a detailed turn by turn mile by mile, I look at Hiking Trails.  Hiking Trails also comes with a large park map, the kind that you can pick up at the Visitor's Center or download from the website; not great for being lost in the woods, but serviceable for being on trail and figuring out how to get there.  The good thing about both of these books is that they are pocket sized.  Now Hiking Trails may be a little bulky but it still would be a good thing to have in the top of your pack.  If you were only to get one book on Smokies Hiking, get Hiking Trails for it's depth of information.  I give both books a 5 star rating.
     The newest book in my collection is 50 Hikes on Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau by Johnny Molloy.  I have yet to use this book on trail, but reading his descriptions of some trails that I have previously been on, he is spot on.  He has the usual length, difficulty, and elevation loss/gain and serviceable trail maps.  I wouldn't really want to carry the 240 page book through the woods, but it wouldn't too bad.  I am already using the book to plan a couple of trips to the Scott's Gulf area by Virgin Falls.  Some of his descriptions are better than the ones in 40 Hikes in the South Cumberland, and both books cover the same ground but I like having both to compare.  Mr. Molloy's book covers more of the Cumberland Trail than 40 Hikes, and it also runs from the Kentucky line to the Alabama line.  His book is the first I have found to mention hikes in Frozen Head State Park, which is one of the main reasons I bought it.  So being untested, I will give the book 4 1/2 stars.
     I hope that this review will help you if you are in search of trail guides for East Tennessee.  There are many trails out there and not every trail is covered by a book.  Sometimes part of the adventure is just finding the trail.  I know I don't think I will ever forget that herd of blood thirsty Chihuahuas that came after me when I stopped and asked a guy how to find Turtletown Falls, but that is a story best left untold.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Benton Falls, The First Hike of 2015!

Benton Falls Running Full
     For the past four years, a hike to Benton Falls in the Cherokee National Forest has been our first hike of the year.  I have been hiking there so much, that I can practically hike the trail in my sleep.  To prove that to myself, I did hike about a mile of the trail while reading a book one time.  But I digress back to the trip.  Yesterday, 1/17/15, we went for the first hike.  I purchased one of the annual passes for the Cherokee Forest and it was our first use of it.
Looking down from the top of the falls
     There were several cars in the parking lot so I expected the trail to be busy, but we hardly saw anyone.  The trail heads from the parking lot and goes across the dam holding back McKamy Lake.  Then it turns left and beings to descend the mountain heading towards the falls.  Overall, the trail is 1.5 miles long.  Hikes and Mountain Bikers share the trail,  I was super surprised that there were no mountain bikers.  We did not see anyone till we were almost to the waterfall.  The trail is mostly packed sand, but there are rocks that need to be watched for.  Going to the waterfall, it is downhill all the way so it takes no time to reach the stairs that lead to the base of the falls.  From the research that I have done, you loose about 300 feet from the parking lot to the base of the falls and you make it all back up going to the car.
     The trail starts off in a hardwood forest, then passes through a clear cut for power lines and then goes into a mixed forest with some pine trees.  The Pine Beetle has made its presence felt here, but I believe the Forest Service has it under control or the pest has moved on.  Once the trail comes close to Rock Creek, which is the creek that makes Benton, Rattlesnake, and Scenic Falls, Magnolia trees begin to become prominent.  From the main trail down to the top of the falls, there are steps, but going down to the bottom, there are rock steps that have been there for as long as I can remember.
     I do not want to give this trail short shift, but it is like an old friend; someone that you have known forever and have gotten used to the little details and nuances that make others stand out and appear spectacular.  Jackie and I use this trail now to take us to other trails in the area.  The Benton Falls Trail links up with the McKamy Lake Trail, Elderberry Trial, the Slick Rock Naked Widow Loop, Redleaf Trail, and the Clemmer Trail.  This one little 1.5 mile trail allows you to hook together trails that can run in length from 3 miles to just about as long as you want to walk.  We have used this trail to go to the Clemmer Trail and then the Rim Rock trail across to the Clear Creek Trail and back up to the Beach Trail for a hike that ran 7.5 miles.  Needless to say I forgot how to add and told Jackie it would be about 4 miles total and she went for a 2 mile run that morning.  She wasn't real happy with me, but I got the Trangia 25 Stove system due to that hike!
     I always like to try and end our Benton Falls hike with a trip around McKamy Lake.  I look for fish or anything else I might see.  The last time we hiked the lake, from the Gazebo Trail, we saw 3 Water Moccasins.  This trip there was ice still on the lake from our colder temps earlier in the week.  As we were making the turn past the Campground Loop A area, I spotted this turtle sunning itself.  I pointed it out to Jackie, snapped a quick pick and moved on.  It was a good way to end the hike.
Turtle trying to get warm in the sun 

Savage Day Loop 10/25/2014

     About five years ago, Jackie and I made our first trip to Savage Gulf State Natural Area.  We fell in love with the place.  We love it so much, that I proposed to Jackie at the Stone Door.  Last year was an interesting year for us, with so much going on.  I regret to say that we only made one trip, yes just ONE trip to Savage Gulf, but it was an interesting trip none the less!
     We decided to do the Savage Day Loop Trail.  We unfortunately did not have a ton of time to do a backpacking trip and my knee was still giving me fits from the Rainbow Falls hike in September.  It was a good thing that we did not plan on doing an overnighter anyway because all of the back country campgrounds were full.  We arrived a little after lunch to find the parking lots completely full.  Outside of a handicapped space, I grabbed the last spot in the open lot.  There was another parking lot, but it was closed due to being the off season.  With great anticipation, I got my pack out of the trunk and helped Jackie into hers and we were off!
     The trail beings just to the right of the Ranger Station.  For those interested, there are a couple of restrooms at the Ranger Station.  I did not use them so I cannot comment on size and cleanliness.  There was a group of about 7 people at the trail register when we arrived getting ready to head out.  They all had 60-80 liter packs and grunted under the weight of lifting them up.  They asked me to take a group picture for them, which I gladly did and asked how long they were going to be out.  A guy sheepishly said, "One night."  I laughed and said, "At least you all will eat pretty well."  We signed the register and the group told us to head out before them, but they were out pacing us, so we let them by.
Trail Register at the Savage Gulf Ranger Station
     The trail was fairly level.  It just meandered its way through the woods and was well graded.  We met several people heading back to their cars.  About .4-.5 tenths of a mile from the trailhead, we came into and area with substantial blowdown damage.  I was a little depressed to see all the trees down along and around the trail.  The trail goes through the damaged area and twists and turns its way past cut trees.  The damaged area of the trail is maybe 2 tenths of a mile in length. 
Part of the trail with downed trees.
      After the damaged area, there was a suspension bridge over a creek.  I always enjoy suspension bridges, and this one had the customary 2 people only sign.  The trail then came to a split.  We could go straight and then turn right to go to Save Falls and Rattlesnake Point overlook or we could go right and see the sights in reverse.  We chose to go right and hike the loop counterclockwise.  Going against the flow is something that we do.  By going right, we were on the path to connect with the North Rim Trail.  As an aside, I have heard that the North Rim Trail has some of the best overlooks in the Park, but I do not know for sure since I have not hiked any of it.  We set out on this route heading towards Rattlesnake Point 1.2 miles away.  This part of the trail follows an old narrow gauge logging railroad that went through the area in the 1920's.  That translates to easy grades and no real sharp turns.  The trail goes through forest, weaving its way through stands of trees and along the sides of hill.  When the trail reaches about 3 tenths of a mile from the point, it begins to drop down towards the edge of the Gulf.  It is a gradual decent, but I would not want to climb it on the way out after hiking about 2.5 miles and going back to the car.
Then there it is, Rattlesnake Point.  It is not a developed lookout like Laurel Point or the Stone Door, but the view is nice.  There are some rocks that you can step out on to get a better view, but do not expect wide open views.  I was please that we started with the overlook.  We had a few snacks and read the plaque.  The plaque commemorates the husband and wife who bought the land to help found the park in the 1930's.  There is not a lot of room at the overlook; so if you have little ones, keep a close eye on them.  Also, do not plan on being able to cook lunch at the point, as there is not really enough room, especially if there are other people there.  The trail comes out of the trees just to the left of the picture and runs at the base of the rock bearing the plaque in the picture.  Coming from Savage Falls, Rattlesnake Point could take you by surprise.    
     We continued our counterclockwise route.  The trail follows along the edge of the gulf for a little ways before climbing up and down some of the drainage routes that go to the edge.  After half a mile, the trail goes to the Savage Falls Overlook.  It is a fairly steep tenth of a mile down to the overview.  There is a small platform built to look at the
View of Savage Falls from the Overlook
falls.  Jackie and I were both barely able to stand on the platform and I had to hold Mia.  Jackie took several pictures of the falls and used her longer zoom lenses to get super close up pictures.  The picture to the right is the best that my Pentax WG-1 camera could do.  We could hear the roar of the falls from where we were standing.  The Park had set up signs saying that the trail ended and to not go any further.  I saw where people had gone past the stand to get a closer look.  If you want to go to the base of the falls, it is only .5 miles on the South Rim Trail to reach the overlook and the stairs leading to the base of the falls.  I had brought my film camera but was unable to take any pictures of the falls due to a family coming down the trail and trying to fit their 5 people onto the stand with us on it and there was just not room.  I just put my camera away and began to climb back up the trail.  It is times like that, that reminds me why I like to hike, to get away from everyone and spend time in the outdoors. 
Trangia 25 cooking my lunch
     After climbing back up to the trail, we continued on to the intersection with the South Rim Trail, and then the sign where we turned right.  We were a mile away from Ranger Station at this point.  We met a lot of people coming down to see the falls.  Even with the camp grounds full and closes, we passed several groups going in with packs on their backs.  I hope that they had a way to reserve a spot ahead of time.  Going back to the car either seems to take forever or flys by.  Today it sped by.  We made it back to the car in what felt like rapid time.  I got out my Trangia 25 and cooked us some grilled cheese sandwiches on the grills in the park.  I have not cooked much on the Trangia, but it can hold its own cooking grilled cheese and fried bologna!  I generally take it to work and cook a quick sandwich or two for lunch.  
     Overall, the trip was very enjoyable.  I felt like the Savage Gulf Ranger Station was out of the way compared to the other entrances of the park, but after spending time there, I think that it is well worth the effort.  If you go there and arrive too late to hike to one of the camping areas further in the park, there is a campground about a tenth of a mile past the Ranger Station.  It is not as developed as the Stone Door Entrance, but not as spare as the Collins Gulf and Greeter Falls Entrances either.  If you are only interested in seeing waterfalls, and get up early enough in the day, it is possible to hit Savage Gulf and then drive 19 miles on Hwy 111 to Fall Creek Falls State Park as well.

Directions: The Savage Gulf entrance and ranger station is located halfway along Highway 399 between Cagle and Gruetli-Laager. (from the State Website.  Oh so super helpful I know.)