22 Mar The Boulevard Trail
March 20, 2015 around noon
The hike plan:
Newfound Gap shortly after reopening of Hwy 441.
There was some snow and ice the night before, but I had good timing in reaching the Smokies just minutes after the road opened. Once hiking, I soon wished that I had my Yak Tracks to help hiking across many treacherous ice patches. I picked my way along rocks and the edge of the trail wherever possible and used my poles to avoid slips. The many day trippers were usually ill prepared having no hiking poles or good footwear, but it was a beautiful day for people to pile out of the car and wander up the trail.
The absence of foot prints in the snow and ice made it clear that I was the first hiker on this trail for some time. I didn’t see others for rest of the day. The Boulevard Trail seemed to be mostly clear of ice until I began to ascend the final half mile at which point I moved out of the sun and onto a hard frozen ice covered trail. At that point it was a challenge to keep from sliding off the mountain. At one point, I covered a particularly tough stretch only to slip and glissade back down over hard conquered territory. I made it on the 2nd try. At times I wondered whether I might reach an unpassable spot and have to camp on the spot.
After careful and slow progress I reached the top only to slip and fall just short of the shelter. I fell hard on my back, but my backpack provided a great cushion and I hardly felt it.
I don’t know how cold it was that night, I guess around 15 degrees. After a visit to the cliffs and water run near the lodge, I ate and was in my bag early finding it the best way to stay warm.
At 10:30 pm I was surprised by 5 guys arriving from Miami. They had hiked the Rainbow Falls trail (without poles or yak tracks). They finished in the dark and started to camp in the lodge when the caretaker ran them out and directed them to the shelter. They were on the first day of a 7 day spring break hiking trip that looped to Hughes Ridge, Enloe Creek, Laurel Gap shelter, Old Settlers Trail, and Grapeyard Ridge trail back to start. I told them how tough the first piece of Boulevard would be in the morning. They had gotten a late start because 441 was closed and they chose to detour around. I asked what time and they told me 11 AM. I told them that it was open when I passed through the gate at 11:30 AM.
March 21, 2015
The hike plan:
Mt Le Conte on Boulevard trail to AT – 5.4 miles, Jump Off trail out and back (0.6 miles), AT to Dry Sluice Gap Trail – 1.7 miles, Dry Sluice Gap trail to Cabin Flats trail – 4.2 miles, Cabin Flats Trail to Cabin Flats campsite – 0.6 miles (Total mileage – 12.5 miles)
I took my time in order to start off about the same time as the Miami kids. I suspected they didn’t understand just how hard it would be to descend on The Boulevard. I visited Myrtle Point along the way and hung out until I heard their voices pass. Too bad they chose to bypass this nice spot! I soon came upon them clinging to branches, very slowly and carefully working themselves across ice. At times they were sitting down and attempting to slide without skidding off the trail and down the mountain. I was surprised to find that the trail was actually a little easier than the night before. The morning sun had been on this side for a few hours and made it possible to kick the tiniest of footholds in the ice with the side of my boot. With my hiking poles, this gave me enough traction to move surprisingly fast. The Miami kids on the other hand, had no poles. The tallest kid was being coaxed down by the others. I moved right past the group then slowed some to kick in steps way beyond what I needed hoping they would find them useful.
I met a guy named Ryan at the junction to the Jump Off trail. The Jump Off trail looked like a mini-glacier with ice pouring down the heavily rutted trail. Ryan and I set off toward Jump Off, gingerly hopping around the ice. Ryan pointed out that we had the exact same hiking poles. We had both ordered off Amazon. I enjoyed the remainder of my Subway sandwich while sitting on the overlook.
After returning the the main trail Ryan and I parted ways and I went on to Ice Water Springs shelter and Charlie’s Bunyon.
After turning onto Dry Sluice Gap trail the snow on the trail gradually became more sparse as I descended. From Dry Sluice Gap I did not see others until I was already set up for camp at Log Cabin Flats. A man – daughter pair showed up and a while later another man – daughter pair. This campsite made a good overnight spot for an easy loop hikes from Smokemont. Log Cabin Flats covers a large flat area alongside a surprisingly large stream. There is plenty of room for an army of hikers to overnight here.
March 22, 2015
The hike plan:
Cabin Flats trail – 0.6 miles, Bradley Fork trail – 2.3 miles, Smokemont Loop trail – 3.9 miles, Newton Bald trail – 4.7 mi (Total Mileage 11.5 miles)
I was up early and gone before any others at the campsite were awake. On Smokemont trail I ran into the family of one of the father – daughter pairs that had camped at Log Cabin Flats. They were hiking toward Cabin Flats with plans to meet up. These were the last people I would see until I came off the trail the next day. The Smokemont trail rose to the top of a ridge and continued to rise. It doesn’t look like much of a trail on the map, but don’t be fooled. It is a demanding hike. Nice views of Newton Bald along this trail.
It was still early when I started the Newton Bald trail so I took my time with some long breaks including a nap and lunch on a large rock above a cool looking overhang. I later had nice winter views of Clingman’s Dome from Newton Bald. I used my binoculars to zero in on the Clingman tower as the sun descended. Later, I had a nice campfire. During the night it rained some, but I left my tarp completely open one one side and stayed dry.
March 23, 2015
The hike plan:
Sunkota Ridge trail to Thomas Divide trail – 0.2 miles, Thomas Divde Trail to Newfound Gap Road 4.6 miles (Total mileage – 4.8 miles) Bicycle on Newfound Gap Road from Thomas Divide trailhead to Newfound Gap.
Hiked Thomas Divide trail out to Highway 441. Hiked in occasional mixed snow and rain. The rain and snow started up again when I began bicycling in heavy fog up to my minivan at Newfound Gap. I was in black rain pants and red Northface jacket with hood. I know that the cars that passed thought I was crazy to be riding near the top of the Smokies in conditions like these. I expect that they thought I had ridden from the bottom.