04 Aug Lower Jacks River and Horseshoe Bend Trails
August 3, 2013 – Getting Away
I needed a quick wilderness fix without a long drive, so on a Saturday afternoon, I quickly threw an overnight pack together and loaded my mountain bike on the car. Within a couple of hours I had left my car behind at the Horseshoe Bend Trailhead and was on my mountain bike tearing down a rocky forest service road back toward my cached pack near the lower Jacks River Trailhead. I forded back over streams which only minutes before I had carefully crossed using my daughter’s Nissan Sentra; now covered in mud, of course.
By 3:30 PM I was hiking upstream along the Jack’s river. As always, the water was crystal clear. I was surprised when I began regularly seeing nice sized trout clustered together on the bottom of pools.
Within minutes I had a nasty sting on the back of my left shoulder. Only a few minutes later, another sting. This time on a finger of my right hand. I wore my Chaco sandals and carried my tennis shoes on the pack. In my hurry, I had forgotten socks. By the end of the trip I had about 6 of bleeding raw spots on each foot. Each was where the wet, sometimes sandy straps made contact with skin.
I began counting fords. After 17 crossings of the river I stopped to check Tim Homan’s “Hiking Trails of the Cohutta”. I had passed the Horseshoe Bend trail turnoff without seeing it. No matter, I had planned to hike beyond the turnoff to find a campsite. I chose my campsite and took my second swim of the day in the Jacks. With plenty of time to spare and little to do, I built a campfire. It wasn’t cold and a fire wasn’t needed. Usually I don’t build campfires because I have hiked so long and hard that all I have energy for is setting up the tent and cooking. This day I had only hiked 4 miles of flat riverbank. The crossings were a little tiresome, particularly the 14th or 15th crossing where there was no obvious trail on the opposite bank. I finally found the opposite bank trail well upstream. Someone had marked it with a collapsible water bottle hung on a tree limb with a caribiner.
August 4th – View of Frog Mountain
I made my way back downstream over around 4 river crossings. The Horseshoe Bend trail picks up on the left bank (facing downstream). I see how I missed it the day before. The old wooden trail sign is hung on the upstream side of a tree, which would be the backside of the tree for anyone walking upstream. It was hard enough to see while walking downstream and constantly looking for it. Look for the area with an excellent open campsite and nice fire ring. The trail angles up the hill behind the campsite. The weathered wooden sign is camouflaged against the matching tree that it is nailed upon.
Horseshoe Bend is a steep climb for the first third of a mile. I soon reached a gap and looked over the other side to see and hear a crashing river. I was already on the left bank (going downstream) so how could another river be on my left? I later checked my map. It was the same river, only upstream from where I had turned off on Horseshoe Bend. The Jacks does an upstream turn behind Horseshoe Bend trail. In other words, Horseshoe Bend trail nearly cuts the “Horseshoe” curve of the Jacks. Someone upstream could have taken a big shortcut by climbing up the left side to where I stood.
Farther along I crossed along a ridge that was fairly open to the left. I am sure that I could see Frog Mountain (Tennessee), the highest point in the Cohuttas. It was nearly hidden in morning clouds. I was looking east northeast and the sun had clearly risen nearby.
Self portrait on the lower Jacks River – This was the only portion of the Jacks that I hadn’t yet hiked. This was also my first hike of Horseshoe Bend Trail.