24 Nov Gregory Bald Loop and Abrams Creek Area
This outing had two parts with two locales. First, I day hiked a loop from Twenty Mile ranger station to Gregory Bald and back. Next, I hopped into the mini-van and drove to Abrams Creek ranger station and finished the day by packing to Little Bottoms campsite for the night. The next day and half were spent hiking parts of the Abrams Creek, Cooper Road, Hatcher Mountain, Cane Creek, and Hannah Mountain trails that I hadn’t already hiked. All that is left for me to hike in the Twenty Mile and Abrams Creek areas is the 2.5 miles of Abrams Creek trail from Cades Cove to the falls.
Gregory Bald Loop Day Hike
Day 1 – November 23, 2013
Total Loop Distance: 16.6 miles
Twentymile Ranger Station to Sheep Pen Gap on Wolf Ridge Trail – 6.3 mi
Gregory Bald Trail – 1.2 mi
Long Hungry Ridge Trail – 4.6 mi
Twenty Mile Loop Trail – 2.9 mi
Wolf Ridge Trail – 1.6 mi
My Iphone alarm went off at 5 AM Saturday morning. I laid in the back of the Sienna mini-van with it backed into the gravel parking area; hatchback open over Twenty Mile creek. Within 15 minutes I was on the trail with day pack and headlamp.
Having crossed a footbridge about a half mile past the Long Hungry Ridge trail junction I rounded a bend with high rocks to the right and creek to the left. Two sets if yellow eyes set in the dark playfully bounded toward me directly down the middle of the trail. I halted and backed away a few steps. The glowing yellow eyes of the two animals bounced a little closer acting as if this trail belonged to them. I backed off further, turning my back slightly to these playful yellow eyed creatures in order to walk faster in the opposite direction. All the while I guided my headlamp back toward those yellow eyes. A blow of my whistle didn’t send these animals fleeing. Could be bear cubs? The eyes were spaced at least 12 inches apart and rode about 2 feet above the trail and I wanted to avoid something larger that might be lurking nearby. I retreated back a couple hundred feet to the footbridge where I sat on the bridge on the far side of the bridge and cooked my oatmeal and coffee breakfast while waiting on the beginning of daybreak.
Later at home, I googled animal eye photos in the dark. I couldn’t tell much other than that these were not bear eyes. Bear eyes are glowing round, while these eyes were slanted.
The forest was dripping and the fog was heavy. No views on Gregory’s Bald. It was usually warm on the climb, but at times I met an incredible transition where the temperature dropped and little icy filled rain drops seemed to jump as they pelted the leaves of the footpath.
On this early Saturday morning I saw no other hikers other than a lone Forest Ranger on his way up Long Hungry Ridge trail. When finishing up the last quarter mile of Twenty Mile trial to the parking lot, I met a couple of groups headed up the mountain for the night. The last was a group of off-duty Army soldiers starting out with their heavy rucksacks.
Rock seems to point toward something on Wolf Ridge trail. This well built trail had an even grade over a long climb.
White Pines in mist on Parson’s Bald
Abram’s Creek Area
November 23, 2013
Cooper Road Trail to Little Bottoms Trail – 1.3 mi
Little Bottoms Trail to Little Bottoms Campsite 17 – 1.6 mi
I parked at the parking lot outside the closed Abram’s Creek campground, then packed up enough food and equipment for two nights of hiking from Little Bottoms campsite. Hiking through the campground alongside Abram’s creek, I reached Cooper Road trail which was a long 10.9 miles from Cades Cove where I had hiked portions of this trail 2 weeks earlier. A steep climb on Little Bottoms trail starting near both the lowest elevation and lowest numbered campsite in the Smokies at 1200 feet and Campsite 1, (Cooper Road Campsite) soon returned me to scenic views of the creek.
A couple of groups were camping at the very large Little Bottoms campsite. This large flat expanse set in an area of trees easily had spots for tents way beyond its stated capacity. Nearby to the back of the camping area and just upstream there was the beginning of tornado blow down. Hiking upstream on Little Bottoms trail more blow down on the hill on the opposite side of the creek is a good marker to tell you that you are nearing the campsite.
One group of kids and adults were cleaning and hauling ashes from all of the fire pits. Great job kids!
Fortunately the rain and fog had cleared because due to the expected low temps I had traded my usual tarp for a single man tent and I soon discovered that it was missing its rain fly. The mosquito netting over my head made a nice night time view of the stars.
My campsite for 2 nights at Little Bottoms
I experimented more with tortilla wraps by stuffing them with new things. On my last hike I had Ramen Noodle wraps. This time I improved on this idea by filling wraps with the ready to eat red beans and rice that come in microwaveable foil packs by boiling the contents in water and adding enough instant mashed potatoes to the soupy mix to thicken them up. Delicious! … and easy, but next time I’ll add jalapenos or Tabasco (packets) and cheese. Sounds so good I might not wait for another hike to try this out.
After 19.5 miles of hiking the first day and during a 17 mile 2nd day, I found myself thinking about food a lot. For some reason I thought about baked chicken thighs with greasy dark flesh falling off the bones. Instead, for my mid-day hiking snacks I had peanut butter on round sandwich thins.
Day 2 – “To Abrams Falls”
Day 2 Route & Mileage – 17.5 miles
From Little Bottoms Campsite on Little Bottoms Trail to Hatcher Mtn Trail – 0.7 mi
Hatcher Mountain Trail – 2.6 mi
Cooper Road Trail to Cane Creek Trail – 1.8 mi
Cane Creek Trail to end and return to Gold Mine Trail – 4.2 mi
Gold Mine Trail and return – 1.6 mi
Cooper Road Trail to Little Bottoms Trail – 1.7 mi
Little Bottoms Trail to Little Bottoms Campsite – 1.6 mi
For a Saturday, it was surprising that I never saw another person. This included the much frequented Abram’s Falls; however, with an early start I was probably long gone before others reached the falls.
Thanks to tornado cleared hillsides, the climb from Abram’s Creek up the Hatcher Mountain trail had nice views looking back over a now snow frosted Parsons Bald, Gregory Bald, and Sheep Pen Gap. Further up Hatcher Mountain trail upon rounding a bend I surprised 3 turkeys from a close range.
Perhaps I was hoping to find a McDonalds at the Park Access on the end of Gold Mine Trail. I only found this barn. This short trail had some nice views.
Day 3 – “Friendly Hannah Mountain Trail” – 6.4 mi
Little Bottoms Campsite to Hannah Mtn Trail – 0.9 mi
Hannah Mtn Trail – 1.9 mi
Rabbit Creek Trail to Abrams Creek Ranger Station road – 2.7 mi
Road walk to Abrams Creek Ranger Station – 0.9 mi
To get to Hannah Mountain trail I had to cross Abrams Creek. Although the crossing is wide, I rock hopped most of the way only to find myself on a large flat rock beyond which was a deep channel hidden from view on the other side. I was just a little too wide for a jump. I sat and removed my boots and rolled up my pants for a few quick plunging steps in the cold water. Just as I mounted a grass patch on the other side, I let a hiking pole slide from my hand. It seemed to float downstream in slow-motion. The creek not being particularly high, it seemed like it would be easy to fetch, but it was impossible to move down the side of the bank in the few quick necessary steps needed to snatch up the pole. Turning to move more quickly, I took my eye off the pole. Although feeling sure that it would have caught on rocks somewhere nearby, I never saw the pole again. Now I have a complete set of poles on rocky bottoms somewhere in the Smokies. One in Abrams Creek and the other in Eagle Creek.
Hannah Mountain trail is such a pleasure to walk. Without steep grades and roots or rocks, it just goes forever winding through the mountains. I found the west end of Hannah Mountain trail from Abram’s creek to Rabbit Creek trail to be much the same as the friendly easy walk as the portion east of Rabbit Creek that I had hiked two weeks prior. About 7 minutes prior to reaching Rabbit Creek trail, I crossed a nice water source.
Rabbit Creek trail was a nice climb, then descent to Abram’s Creek. The climb had nice views back toward Gregory and Parson’s Bald and the descent provided views of the houses perched on the Chilhowee range.
By 9:30 AM I was back to my car at Abram’s Creek Ranger station.