16 Nov Hiking all around the Smokies
Over a 9 day period in November 2014 I skipped my way around the Great Smoky Mountain National Park completing as many of the few remaining trails that I had not yet hiked in my goal for completing all 900 miles of trails in the park. Every hike or trail completed seemed to mark some milestone, such as another area of the park trails completed. Over 113.3 miles of trails (79.1 of which I had never hiked) I saw 2 historic school houses, a number of restored cabins and 3 waterfalls . I visited the towns of Maryville, Townsend, Gatlinburg, Standing Bear Farm hostel, West Asheville – Bon Paul & Sharky’s hostel, Cherokee, and Bryson City. I camped on the trail two nights and slept in the back of my van all other nights (even at the hostels). I camped in the van at the Old Settlers Trail trailhead in the Greenbrier area. I was always on the lookout for showers and discovered the Gatlinburg Community Center as the only option for a shower in Gatlinburg. I camped in the van at a rest stop on I-40, waking up to snow covering the van.
Throughout this trip I managed to organize my Sienna Minivan into a nicely outfitted camper. I discovered that the numerous cup holders, trays, pockets, and grocery back hooks served well for hanging backpacks and storing clothing, food, and supplies. The minivan became quite a comfortable home. I even used a piece of Tyvek as a doormat and a whisk broom as a vacuum cleaner.
Trail signs from all over.
First 2 days of hiking – Cades Cove Area
Route on Day 1 and 2. Camped at Campsite 6. (18.4 miles)
On an evening hike ascending Crooked Arm Ridge trail I had my last glimpse of the grassy fields of Cades Cove during during my quest to hike the 900 miles of GSMNP trails. Throughout this trip I used my bicycle to join up trailheads with my minivan. I dropped my pack at Crooked Arm trail, drove and parked my minivan at Finley Cane trail, then rode my bike back to about 3 miles to Crooked Arm trail where I locked it to a tree and picked up my backpack. The next day, I stashed my backpack in the woods at the road where Bote Mountain trail starts. Later that day, I returned to my minivan and drove around to gather up the hidden bike and hidden backpack. I had also stowed away my backpack on the bear cables at campsite 6 while I hiked Indian Grave Gap Trail out and back. This was typical of my logistics for joining trailheads and limiting the need to carry a fully packed backpack.
The morning of the 2nd day, I was concerned because I needed to hike Scott Mountain trail and it had been closed for the past 2 – 3 years due to storm damage. I gave it a try, knowing that I could turn around. I started my GPS tracker so I could backtrack if I were to become lost in the woods. This was never an issue because the trail was very clear. About a half mile in from Turkeypen Ridge Campsite 6, deadfall and a sloping trail slowed my progress. After another half mile or more of this the trail was much better. There were a few difficult, but manageable crossings of large trees. It is a mystery why the park service didn’t send a team in to clear the way. The easy stuff could have been cleared by a few people in a single day. This trail provides the most direct way for hikers to walk from Townsend to Cades Cove. It also borders Whiteoak Sink which has bat caves. The bats are dying off from white nose disease. This disease wakes up the bats during winter hibernation when without food they can’t afford to expend energy. Maybe the park service wants this trail closed permanently. Could it be to keep hikers away from bat caves? Or could it be to keep hikers from vacation cabins that border the park right at the trail? Anyway, I have hiked trails in much worse condition in wilderness areas and even in the GSMNP. I hiked the open Meigs Creek trail right after a tornado and had more deadfall to deal with.
I must be starting to lose my human smell because it seems like wild animals always walk up to me with no clue that I am there. I always thought animals could smell so well and were very aware of the nearby presence of humans. That isn’t the case with me. While sitting on the trail eating my PBJ’s at the base of Bote Mountain Trail a deer noisily descended to a creek and back up the other side to where I sat. I watched this dear the entire time and couldn’t believe that he was coming up the embankment exactly where I sat. The deer was right on me, just a few feet away when it caught sight of me. With all of the space in the woods, how probable is it that the deer would choose a path right where I sat. At first I thought the deer must be habituated to humans and was coming for the PBJ. That wasn’t the case.
About an hour later as I walked up Bote Mountain trail nearly to Finley Cove Trail, I heard running around the bend behind me. I turned around just in time to see about 4 or 5 deer running up the trail toward me. Although I stood there in plain site, it took some time before the deer realized I was there and react by diving off the trail.
Next 2 days of hiking – Gatlinburg and Metcalf Bottoms
I moved on the the Gatlinburg area where I walked on the Gatlinburg Trail then sat in traffic on Little River Road at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and on the main strip through Gatlinburg.
The next morning I had a long day hike including Cove Mountain Trail. Although long, it turned out to be easy. Cove Mountain trail was an old road bed and never steep. Laurel Falls trail was downhill. I didn’t see people until I was a mile or so from Laurel Falls. Laurel Falls was one continuous stream of people coming up the asphalt paved path.
There was a lady walking around the edge of the falls with her kid and husband. It wasn’t that she was near the edge. Others moved around this area. The part that bothered me was that she seemed very oblivious, taking steps backwards with her back to the drop off and not seeming to be aware of her locale. With the drop offs on the falls and even on the asphalt path leading to the falls and the large numbers of people, I can easily believe the sign at the trailhead that informs visitors that deaths have occurred from falls.
That night I was finally beginning to learn my way around Gatlinburg. I ate Chinese food in town. I learned to park on river street to avoid parking fees. It helped that the weekend rush was over. I drove up Roaring Fork Motor Trail to Cherokee Orchard to check out the road for riding my bicycle the next day in order to hike back up the Old Sugarlands trail. Barely out of the hotel district I saw cars pulled over on the other side of the road. There was a bear ambling his way to town. He had well under a half mile to reach the middle of the hotel district and even main street.
After sleeping in the van for the 2nd consecutive night parked hidden well back on Greenbrier Road just across 3 bridges over the Little Pigeon and Middle Prong of Little Pigeon rivers I had coffee and breakfast at the McDonalds off Hwy 321 and drove to Cherokee Orchards. Having taken a shower at the spacious new Gatlinburg Community Center the night before, I felt almost civilized. It was early morning and cold, but I wore my rain/wind jacket and pants and gloves on the bicycle ride down Roaring Fork Motor Trail and through Gatlinburg. I made a stop at a Subway to pick up lunch for later, then continued on my bicycle down the Gatlinburg trail to the start of the hike on the Old Sugarlands trail.
After completing the hike and picking up my bicycle I drove to Metcalf bottoms where I repeated the bicycle / van routine between Metcalf bottoms and Wear Gap.
A Zero day in Asheville, then 5 hiking days.
After camping in the van at Standing Bear Hostel where the AT leaves the Smokies, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Asheville. Tuesday night was spent camping in the van at Bon Paul & Sharky’s hostel in West Asheville. I took in the West Asheville nightlife with a dinner at a local bar and some time at the ISIS theater for some bluegrass music. Mostly I enjoyed walking around the area and visiting with the young people at the hostel. Having stayed at 2 hostels meant hot showers for another 2 nights.
Wednesday evening after a day in Asheville, I drove to Cataloochee and did some hiking into the dark to complete an out and back of the “spurs” of Mt. Sterling Trail and Little Cattaloochee Trail. I parked somewhere in Cataloochee valley (on creek up the road from the Palmer House) where I camped in the van once again.
The following morning I slept in the van at a rest stop on I-40, then drove to Big Creek where I hiked in the snow along Chestnut Branch trail. This was an out and back up to the AT.
The Final 3 Days – Near Cherokee and Bryson City
After a 9 day trip, I postponed breakfast to make an early daylight start (7:15 AM) from my campsite at Newton Bald. After reaching the junction of Mingus Creek trail and Deeplow Gap trail, I took a break to cook oatmeal and coffee. I finished up the coffee in my “to go” cup as I continued on Deeplow Gap trail. A light cold rain started shortly before I reached my van having completed the 14.7 miles at 1:20 PM, a 6 hour 5 minute day on the trail.
On the way up Indian Creek Motor trail, I saw my only people of the day, a couple on horseback. Indian Creek Motor trail, Thomas Divide, and Indian Creek trails in this area are roads making easy passage for horses and even bicycles.
At the junction of Indian Creek trail and Deeplow Gap Trail was a “No Bicycles Beyond this Point” sign. This made me wonder whether bicycles were allowed in much of this area. This got me thinking about a new adventure. Bicycling the road loop made by Thomas Divide, Indian Creek Motor, Deeplow Gap, and Indian Creek trails.