03 Oct Forney Creek / Forney Ridge Hike – GSMNP
Friday, September 10, 2010
Last January I began looking for a quick weekend hike in the Smokies. I remembered how beautiful Gregory Bald was in the snow and thought about hiking to Andrews Bald. It would a short drive for the Smokies and I could walk Forney Creek trail and return to the Tunnel on the Road to Nowhere via Forney Ridge trail. In the end, I didn’t want a repeat of my winter Eagle Creek experience with impossible fords of snowmelt swollen streams, so I decided against Forney Creek and the risk of crossing 4 times.
I load up the van and drive to Bryson city after a quick stop at Captain D’s for the last civilized supper. I do my usual camping in the van at a parking lot on the Nowhere Rd. With windows cracked, sunroof open, and creek gurgling, I sleep with pillow and sleeping pad more comfortably than I sleep at home.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
18.2 miles – Tunnel Parking Lot – Tunnel – Lakeshore Trail – Forney Creek Trail – Forney Ridge Trail – Clingman’s Dome path & return, Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald
After a quick 8 – 10 mile ride back into Bryson City for a breakfeast Subway eggwhite sandwich and coffee, I return to the trailhead and stuff the last few items in my pack. I add the uneaten half of my flatbread egg footlong to my pack.
The tunnel is darker than expected, but I don’t stop to retrieve my headlamp from the pack. I trust in my footsteps. The floor of the tunnel is absolutely cloaked in darkness; the dimest light tells me where the walls lie. My mind easily begins to wonder whether a deep shaft might have opened in the floor of this forgotten 1940’s era tunnel. I would easily make my last step into oblivion.
I’m on Lakeshore trail, easily the longest in the park. Today I hike it for only a mile or two. This is also the Benton McKaye trail. I’m adding a couple more miles to my BM mileage. The forecast is for rain. In fact, it had already rained a little while I slept in the van (forcing me to get up and close the sunroof). As an afterthought, I grabbed a small umbrella that happened to be in the van. As it rains harder, the umbrella goes up. I’m proud of the way I am keeping my upper half dry, but water streams off the back of the umbrella into the top of my backpack. It rains harder and the trail turns into a muddy stream. I see tarps in a campsite at the junction with the Forney Creek trail. Two guys are walking up to the tarps. I join them. They had been out for a couple of nights and are headed back to the car back at the Tunnel trailhead. They are also from Roswell. One tells me about a 70 year old woman they met that was on a 23 mile day hike with a single bottle of water and fanny pack.
The Forney Creek trail has very few if any water breaks. Water runs down the trail until it hits the stream. The stream is chocolate brown. I can see why. With such a poor design surprises me that the trail isn’t a deeper ditch. I notice that the ridge trails without nearby creeks to muddy up are better engineered with plenty of water breaks and lateral slopes. It seems to me that the priority should have gone to those trails that follow creek banks. Rains would destroy these trails along with the creek.
The creek is swollen with rain, but crossings aren’t bad. I have to wade through, but I don’t have to worry about being swept off my feet. An obvious highlight is a waterfall, which I will call Forney Creek Falls. It is a smooth rounded rock slide into a small pool. I climb further and find that there is more rock slide falls farther up. Each section probably rises 40 feet or so.
The trail is steady gradual climb. Much of it is old roadbed with with switchbacks reinforced with high stacked rock walls. As usual, the CCC did a great job with this construction. The trail road occasionally dips up and down into a crossing ravine where there was obviously a wooden bridge in the CCC days. It is midday, about 12:40 PM and it grows dark in the woods. Rain falls harder and thunder rumbles. I stop for a minute to play with the trail stream, opening a flow off the side of the trail and diverting water with a couple of rotten logs.
I reach Forney Ridge and hike the mile to the Clingmans Dome parking lot. A few tourists are braving the rain and clouds to make the pointless hike to the top. I join them, but I don’t bother climbing the observation deck to see the 300 foot view into fog and clouds. Of all of the times I have been here I think that maybe once the sky was clear enough for a view.
Back down Forney Ridge and another 1.7 miles to Andrews Bald. The spruce trees are thick on this section and again it is dark and spooky.
At the Bald, I set up the tarp in some large spruce trees on the east side (away from the wind). It is a cozy spot. I pull my sleeping bag out of the stuff sack inside a garbage bag. It is very wet. Not good, but their is still a nice hot supper to look forward to. I unload my Idahoan instant mashed potatoes and I set up my cat food can stove. My lighter doesn’t work. I retrieve my 2 “backup” lighters from their ziplock bag. They don’t work. Not good. Now I wish that I had that magnesium stone/flint. Cold tuna fish for supper. No hot mashed potatoes. I also eat some more of my almonds and raisins and gaze at my oatmeal and coffee and think about how good they would have been in the morning.
September 12, 2010
10 miles – Andrews Bald – Forney Ridge Trail – Springhouse Branch Trail – Nolan Creek Trail – Benton McKaye (Road to Nowhere back to Tunnel Parking Lot) note::: I did not hike the last mile of Nolan Creek Trail to Fontana Lake.
One of my lighters worked this morning! I was able to have my oatmeal and coffee after a very uncomfortable nights sleep in a wet sleeping bag. I had put on my fleece jacket and rain pants, but the lower half of my body stayed chilled with the wet sleeping bag. There was also a lightening storm and more rain during the night.
I was up in the dark when the first peak of red was peaking through the heavy clouds down in the valleys and lower mountains. It was a beautiful sunrise with clear skies up on top and billowing clouds rising out of the valleys and rolling over all but the tallest mountains. I retrieved the food bag that I had hung between two spruce trees and after breaking camp, I was on the trail at about 8 AM.
After descending from Andrews Bald, Forney Ridge trail is a nice level ridge walk with a good path. It is my favorite kind of trail. It feels so free and open on the ridge tops. I think I like these sections much better than the closed in creek trails.
Upon reaching Springhouse Branch trail, I was again on trails that I had already walked. I enjoyed seeing my old campsite (from Sept 2008) at Mill Branch. It brought back memories of listening to radio shows on the MP3 player that described the financial crisis that was taking place at that time. It was kind of scary.
From this point I followed the portion of Noland Creek Trail that I had never hiked. It was an easy road walk. Finally, I looked up to see the overpass of the Road To Nowhere extending above the tall trees. It was kind of wierd to suddenly see that man-made structure out in the middle of the woods.