10 Feb Hughes Ridge Trail Hike – Great Smoky Mountains
Smokemont on Bradley Creek Trail to Chasteen Fork Trail to Hughes Ridge Trail to Pecks Corner.
Return down Hughes Ridge Trail to Bradley Creek Trail intersection back to Smokemont.
February 6th, 2010, Saturday
At 5:00 AM I am in my car headed toward Cherokee, NC.. Around Topton, NC where US 129 turns toward Robbinsville, NC I begin to see the remnants from last week’s snowstorm on the side of the road. Descending into Nantahala gorge, a little mixed freezing stuff hits the windshield.
My hike begins in Smokemont campground and climbs on the Benton McKaye (Bradley Fork Trail & Chasteen Creek Trail) most of the 3000 feet where Pecks Corner Shelter sits. Water streams down the middle of the logging road that snakes its way alongside Chasteen Creek. Soon, my feet are wet. A little while later, I am struggling with short inefficient steps on slippery snow slush. It is above freezing, mid-30’s, but lightly snowing.
The Snowy Trail
The trail is a good one, mostly logging roads and well graded switch backed trails along the entire weekend’s route. At a little higher elevation, I begin the snow crunch and the post holing. My feet break through the upper frozen crust, then sink 3 – 6 inches. This is extremely exhausting. I move slower. I reach Hughes ridge trail and continue slowly as the trail goes ascends and descends, but mostly maintains a plus 5000 foot elevation. I count the tenths of a mile as I pull the trail info from my pocket to locate myself on the elevation profile. I have plenty of time to make the shelter, even if I were to go 1 mph. I try to pace myself and I take frequent breaks as my legs turn to rubber and my lungs begin to struggle. Nobody has . As far as I can tell, nobody has been up here for at least a week if not longer
I finally spot Pecks Corner Shelter. Untidy. A tarp hangs across the entire length of the front. Trash piled in the chimney. Junk, broken lantern, poncho, rope, sleeping pad, blanket, etc. lay stacked in the corner. back country reservations told me that there was only one space available after mine. I am alone. With the closure of 441 over , the easier hiking routes via the AT aren’t possible. This and the snow must explain the no-shows. The exertion killed my appetite, but finally I get motivated to prepare Spicy Ramen Noodles with Chicken for supper, although I eat them without real hunger. I listen to podcasts, read Tarzan of the Apes on Itouch, and I stay warm in my sleeping bag. It continues to snow.
February 7th 2010, Sunday
I waken about 6:30 AM. It is still dark, but I think that it wouldn’t hurt to start my water for the oatmeal and climb back into my sleeping bag. I reach for the hood portion of my sleeping bag as I begin to pull myself half out of the bag. I reach out into space over the edge of the 5 foot platform and begin to feel myself grasping air as the weight of my upper body extends over the edge of the platform more than counterbalancing the lower half still in the sleeping bag. Like a seesaw slowly changing direction, I slowly flip over the edge headfirst, landing 5 feet below on my upper back. I remember thinking, “don’t let me get hurt bad enough to make it impossible for me to get off the mountain”.
It was a great landing. No broken bones, no pain, rather it felt like a friendly whack on the back. The excitement awakened my adrenaline and I no longer wanted to crawl back into my sleeping bag. It is amazing how a flip off a 5 foot platform can warms you up and get you going in the morning! I step outside the hanging tarp to find a few stars lingering just before daybreak. In a few minutes, a cloudless sky was revealed
Here I am early in the morning, ready to head off the mountain after an acrobatic dismount from the sleeping platform!
The snow was nicely frozen and easy to walk on without punching through. A half inch layer of powder cushioned each step. I doubled back down Hughes Ridge trail, this time turning down Bradley Creek trail. Bradley Creek trail was nicely switched back. A fairly even down sloping trail with an undisturbed snow cover, it would have made a perfect ski slope. If only I had skis; I could have zipped down the .
Farther down off the mountain, Bradley Creek trail became a road that followed the creek gorge. Nice bridges were at every creek crossing. I began to notice more animal tracks. Turkey, squirrel, bird, rabbit, raccoon, razorback pig, coyote, and bear were just a few of the more interesting tracks. One set of tracks seemed to drag a claw in a straight line between prints. According to the tracks, a coyote had made its long way up the road that morning. Another animal had reacted and scurried away. The coyote peed at one point and a earlier in its journey it had left its droppings containing matted animal hair.