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.

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