West of Round Bottom - Smoky Mountains - Uphillhike
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West of Round Bottom – Smoky Mountains

Planned hike April 21-22, 2012

Weather forecast – Thunderstorms on Saturday, Rain on Sunday, Low of 33 deg F

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Itinerary

Day 1 –  Round Bottom to Hyatt Ridge trailhead on Straight Fork Rd via bicycle, Hyatt Ridge Trail 1.9 mi west, Enloe Creek Trail 7.2 mi round trip (west then east), Hyatt Ridge Trail 2.6 mi north to Campsite 44 (McGee Spring, elev 5040 ft).

Day 2 – Hyatt Ridge Trail 0.9 mi south, Beech Gap Trail 2.8 mi to Round Bottom

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Saturday, April 21, 2012

I hid my pack behind a tree near the parking lot at the Hyatt Ridge trail head and drove to the far side of the bridge at Round Bottom where I parked and unloaded my bicycle. In very little time I had pedaled back to my backpack and hid my bicycle in a rhododendrum thicket and I was on the trail.

It wasn’t long before I was wiping sweat from my eyes as I made the steady climb up to the ridge top. At the gap on top where Enloe Creek Trail intersects, I emptied my pack of all food and hid it behind a fallen tree. I loaded up a day pack with the food and set off with a light load and peace of mind that neither human nor bear would disturb my hidden pack.

Enloe Creek trail descends down the other side of the ridge and soon reaches a wide horse bridge with a campsite alongside the heavily bouldered and beautiful creek. I would like to return some day during the summer to camp here cool off in the pools and spillways and climb across the warm boulders.

Less than a mile further I met a couple from Quebec going the other way. Recognizing the accent, I asked whether they spoke French and I used the opportunity to parlez francais. It was a short conversation. They seemed anxious to move on.

The trail eventually climbed toward Hughes Ridge where near the top white trillium was abundantly in bloom. I snapped a photo at the trail intersection and recalled the grueling and lonely tramp through the snow that I made here a couple of winters ago.

I turned around and eventually caught back up with the Quebecoise couple as they neared the top of the 2nd portion of Hyatt Ridge Trail. The girl was moving slowly. We again spoke some French and English and I learned that they were headed to Laurel Gap Shelter for the night. I only ever heard the girl speak French. She was telling her boyfriend that she was depressed. I told the guy that there was a tough climb of at least 2000 vertical feet to Laurel Gap Shelter. They discussed hitchhiking from the road.

By this time I was working to dry my Iphone which had gotten wet in the rain during the climb back to the gap on Hyatt ridge. It had been in my daypack and was cased in an Otterbox, but somehow the moisture had gotten through and caused a loss of screen brightness.

It was still early and I had only a mile of easy ridge walk to McGee Springs Campsite (CS 44). The camp was suprisingly swampy and lush for a spot at an elevation over 5000 feet. Four guys were already camped at 44. Jim, Mark, Rick, and Lee had been hiking partners for 20 plus years. Lee had hiked all of the Smoky Mountain trails and had even written a guide book on the trails. A couple of the others only needed Lost Cove trail to complete all of the park’s trails. They informed me that Lost Cove was difficult because it requred a 17 miles day of hiking due to the absence of campsites.

Lee was their chief chef and it wasn’t long before he was offering me all sorts of gourmet trail food such as crackers spread with a drop of chipolte, and chopped onions, varietal colors of bell peppers, and a randomly hiden morsel of habenero.

It was early and I considered converting this weekend into a day hike. I was only about 4 easy miles from the car. The hospitality and the prospect of calling an early end to such a pleasant adventure convinced me to stick to my plans to camp here. If this company hadn’t been here, I am sure that I would have wrapped up the hike that same afternoon.

The rain started up again and I retired to my tent at about 5:30 PM, never to come out until daybreak. I guess I was a little tired after all.

Sunday, April 22, 2012.

Not much to tell. Woke up and cooked my oatmeal and coffee; said my goodbyes and was soon on the trail. There was some blue sky and it didn’t at all look like the rain that was predicted. Early morning is my favorite time to hike the ridge tops. With less than 4 miles, it was a very pleasant, but unfortunately short day in the Smokies.