16 Apr Greenbrier Ridge Trail Hike
Saturday, February 25th 2012 – 12.3 mi (approx 14.3 mi including wrong turn)
At Middle Prong Little River trailhead near Tremont I started the hike without my usual hiking poles. The wide smooth pathway leading up Middle Prong seemed the way to go until I spied a sign about 100 feet down the trail. It stated that their were nice waterfalls sights along the creek to enjoy for people who wanted to walk up the trail as far as comfortable and easily turn around for the walk back. This sounded more like a nature trail than the Middle Prong Trail, so I overthought the situation and decided that I should be on the more authentic looking footpath that led up a creek on my right. At any rate, I thought that if this other was a false trail, it would be soon unmasked. I didn’t bother to examine the map. This other trail continued over a bridge constructed of a giant steel I-beam. I eventually made a difficult creek crossing and the trail continued without giving up its tread. About a mile into this trail I stopped and checked the map. Wrong trail. I later found out that this was Sam’s Creek and that the trail was an old one (not on current maps) that led to Desolation Ridge near Rocky Top on the AT. The difficult creek crossing was even more difficult when backtracking. I picked out a couple of large branches to help me balance as I rock-hopped.
My route led 2.3 miles up Middle Prong Trail to a point where I turned left on Panther Creek Trail and immediately crossed the Middle Prong Creek. There was no way to safely rock-hop this large stream. (For all creeks on this trip, it seemed like many of the rocks were a great deal more slippery and treacherous than usual.) I stripped down to bare feet and shorts to wade this stream. My feet numbed in water that was cold for the Smokies.
Panther Creek Trail was another 2.3 miles to its intersection at Jakes Gap with Jakes Gap Trail and Miry Ridge Trail. My new ailment was a sore back. Perhaps it could be blamed on hiking without poles. My knee/shinsplints issue did not return, but I constantly monitored for it. Miry Ridge Trail led 5 miles toward a few higher open sections where I had good views toward the western flatlands and other views of Clingman’s Dome and Mt. LeConte toward the Northeast. The wind picked up on these ridges and I constantly had to adjust my jacket, hat, and gloves to match the constantly shifting warming and chill. In spots, I spied some snowflakes on the ground. The trees on distant Clingman’s Dome were white with hoarfrost. It has been a warm winter with 74 degrees in Roswell the day before yesterday. I saw no other hikers until I reached the Appalachian Trail. On the southwestern slopes of Cold Spring Knob in short succession I met “Crash”, “Ma and Pa” and a final thru-hiker (unkown to Crash and Ma and Pa). The last thru-hiker was trying to catch Ma and Pa; he wore a solar powered radio. These thru-hikers had started on February 11th.
Also at Derrick Knob Shelter were Jeff and Carver along with James (a solo hiker). As it became dark, we were joined by a thru-hiker named Anthony (he reported that he had no trail name yet). Anthony was a young man from California that had kept busy building hospitals that met earthquake standards. Now that the hospital building boom was over, he was hiking the AT for the first time. Anthony had made the incredible 22 mile distance from the Fontana Hilton to Derrick Knob Shelter in a single day. He usually hikes with his dog, but had to put him in a kennel for the Smoky Mountain trek. My guess was that he wanted to speed through the Smokies so he could quickly retrieve his dog.
The wind kept blowing making it cold enough. Jeff and Carver had already gathered a pile of firewood and later had the fireplace going. J&C were planning to start an AT thru-hike in the more sane season of early April. Carver had hiked the entire Smoky Mountain map (my goal also), but even more impressive, he had hiked many other long trails around the southeast including some I haven’t yet hiked or fully hiked. These included the entire Foothills Trail and Bartram Trail.
I boiled rice and added an avocado and sardines. It was the hot warming stew that I needed to take the chill off.
Sunday, February 26, 2012 – 8.6 mi
After breakfast of oatmeal and coffee I began the downhill return trip on the Greenbrier Ridge Trail. To the right I had a view of the Lynn Camp Prong creek valley leading up to the ridgeline where I had been hiking the Miry Ridge Trail. At the point where Lynn Camp Prong connects, the Miry Ridge Trail changes directions and drops as if to leap over and follow a new ridge to the AT. The grade was very gradual making it easy on the knees. Jeff, Carver, and James caught up with me and I began hiked with James to the Middle Prong and on to the parking lot. I gave James a ride back to his truck parked at Cades Cove. James has a summer job as a caretaker at AT campsites in New Hampshire. As part of his training, he had to take an eight day Emergency Medical Training course. Sounds like he is going to have a nice summer.