03 Jun Boogerman Trail from Purchase Knob
This 2 day solo backpacking trip covers a walk from the road below Purchase Knob into the GSMNP to Mckee Branch and Boogerman trails returning via Caldwell Fork trail to camp at Caldwell Fork (Campsite 41). Return the next day via Hemphill Bald and Cattaloochee Divide trails. This hike had several areas with enormous Poplar trees (Boogerman and Hemphill) and open views at Double Gap and the Swag. Historic piled rock walls could be found along Boogerman. Purchase Knob area included old Ferguson Cabin.
Left the house at 4:20 am and I was in Maggie Valley at 7 something. Took Hemphill Rd and drove toward Swag Inn and on toward Purchase Knob. A short way up The unpaved road I reached a closed gate. Driving up to the lot for the Appalachian Highlands Science Center wouldn’t be possible, but the park official I had spoken to on the phone had warned me about getting trapped behind the locked gate if I tried. I parked at a pullover right in front of the gate and began my hike about a mile short of McKee Branch Trail. From the gate, hike about 0.7 miles up Purchase Knob road. After you reach the 2nd opening in the trees and just past some large Christmas Trees on your left, you will see signs for a Horse Trail and Ferguson Cabin leading toward the left.The Horse Trail divides with the lower route becoming a foot trail to the cabin. Either direction will eventually lead to the signed junction of Mckee Branch trail / Cattaloochee Divide trail.
Day 1, May 31, 2014 – “Oscar, My hiking partner.”
Route: Total Distance 11.6 miles
At gate on Purchase Mountain Road to horse trail on left ( 0.7 miles) to Mckee Branch trail (0.4 miles), Mckee Branch Trail (2.3 mi), North on Caldwell Fork and Boogerman (4.4 mi), South on Caldwell Fork trail to Caldwell Fork Campsite (3.8 mi).
As I pulled up to the gate, Oscar, a lab mix dog, was waiting for me to get out of the car. After seeing that he was friendly, I rubbed his head and set out up Purchase Rd.. It was a pleasant hike up the closed road. Oscar led the way, occasionally diving off the road to chase the occasional bird. I took the horse trail at the sign to Ferguson cabin. (Stay to the right, unless you want to visit the cabin.) This trail leads right into Mckee Branch trail. Near the Cattalooche divide Oscar looked ahead and began a low growl. The hair stood up on the back of his neck. There was something unfriendly out there. I walked south on the divide looking for a good signal. After checking in, I was ready to drop over the ridge and out of communication for 2 days. Returning north on the divide, Oscar’s hair went back up at the same spot on the trail that it did before. Something was out there and Oscar didn’t like it.
Horse traveled McKee Branch was a muddy descent most of the way. There wasn’t much fun in hiking it. At the park boundary I tried to get Oscar to go back home. Of course, no luck. I have never been able to make any dog go home.
The Boogerman trail was both scenic and easy. After a few climbs it leveled out and stayed on the level or gradual downslope most of the way to its northern junction with Caldwell Fork trail. The few ascents passed by stacked rock walls that reminded me. Of the Old Settlers Trail. This was followed by sights of enormous Poplars. There were 2 hollow poplars large enough for a person to shelter in. Next was a very small cove with a grove of large poplars. Also look for a giant double poplar (on right) and a hollow poplar (left) with an opening made from lightning strike that extended off 50 feet up the trunk.
Oscar will walk through the trickling water of muddy horse trail and then lap up drink from the stirred and muddy horse polluted water. Funny how dogs don’t need treated or filtered water.
By 2PM, I was reading The Reivers on my Kindle and napping under my tarp. It started to rain and Oscar laid down under my tarp as directed.
Later, as I was finishing up dinner of rice and Tofurky sausage, a couple of guys and a girl passed. As usual, Oscar would have followed. I explained that he wasn’t my dog and I took them up on their offer to lead him out and call his owner.
It rained most of the night and became very dark. Others were camping nearby. My headlamp batteries were dead. A glowing bug occasionally crossed in front of the tarp. I woke in the middle of the night to the sound of a distressed girl in the rainy darkness asking, “is anybody there?”. It seemed so real (and spooky) that I sat up and looked around.
Day 2, June 1, 2014 – “The Swag Inn or Ferguson Cabin?”
The Swag Inn
Route: Total Distance – 6 miles
From Caldwell Fork Campsite (CS 41) on Hemphill Bald trail to Double Gap – 3.0 miles, North on Cattalooche Divide trail pass the Swag to junction with McKee Branch trail – 1.8 miles, Foot trail past Ferguson Cabin to Purchase Mountain Road and down Purchase Mountain Road to closed gate – approx. 1.2 mile
Above: See the tiny looking hiking poles leaning against the large poplar.
Above: Hollow Poplar Tree
The rain had stopped and I set out before 7 AM with my coffee in my go-cup. It was nice to have a footbridge at the campsite crossing. The last time I was here, I had to walk through the stream.
Having not reviewed the trail guide, I was surprised to find yet more large Poplars along Hemphill Bald trail. Cattaloochee valley is a great place for these enormous trees.I was also surprised at a turn the trail took near the top where it began descending near where it had just come up. It almost made me believe that I could have started walking the wrong way, only I had not stopped so such a mistake would have been difficult.
The opening vista at Double Gap was refreshing, particularly since it provided fresh views and cooler breezes after a long warm climb.
The paradise that is the Swag Inn is perched along the trail. Thinking it would be a nice place to stay, I later checked the rates. I guess $400 – $900 per night is out of my price range; my stays in the Smokies are $4 per night.
The Ferguson Cabin is an interesting place; at about 5000 ft it is the highest historic residence.