Sunday, February 7, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The Chimneys and Road Prong

Today I hiked one of the most popular trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had hiked to the Chimneys before, but the last time was almost 10 years ago! Needless to say, I didn't remember too much about the previous hike. However, having hiked it again it is obvious why it is such a popular trail. I needed to fill in blank spot on my map; the Road Prong Trail, and since I would be hiking a portion of the Chimneys Trail to get to Road Prong, I figured I might as well hike the extra 2.2 miles roundtrip to see the view from the Chimneys.

The hike started off with lots of water
1st crossing
and bridges for crossing the water.
bridge over water
crossing bridge
There's cascading water all over the place in this section of the park!
another creek shot
The trail closely follows stream and then starts to ascend steeply utilizing well-built stone and wood stairs.
nice stairs
Eventually the trail ascends to a wonderful overlook of the surrounding mountains.
view of mountains
However, the climb is not over at this point, just around a bend in the trail another overlook offers a view of the ultimate destination for the hike: the Chimneys (or at least one of them)!
The final section of "trail" is one of the most exposed in the park.
Chimney Top
It's actually a scramble up slippery, exposed rock. I carefully scrambled up this last section and found a nice perch on top in which to bask in the sun for a bit.
relaxing on summit

The view is impressive in that high mountains completely encircle the Chimneys.
view from Chimney Tops
I relaxed and enjoyed the view for a bit before scrambling back down to the base for my hike back to the junction with the Road Prong Trail.
I stopped to watch an ant-like climber make his way up the rock.
climber on Chimney Top
The trail up Road Prong had a much different feeling than the well-traveled Chimneys Trail. It was much narrower and not as smooth. Fallen trees blocked the path in a few places. There were lots of cascades on the trail's namesake Road Prong. There were even two that were high enough to be considered waterfalls.
icy cascade

At times the trail followed Road Prong itself. The icy water was higher than normal levels due to recent snow melt. Exposed rocks were coated with an icy glaze. I opted to wear my microspikes for the stream crossings. The highest portions of the trail were rocky
rocky trail
with patches of snow.
snow walker
Soon I found myself at an intersection with both the Appalachian Trail
AT junction
and the Clingman's Dome Road. I rested in the sun there, read the roadside interpretive panel,
Indian Gap Road sign
and ate a snack before turning around to make my way back to the car. The return hike went fast. Stopped to admire some of the frost flowers that decorated the trailside
ice needles
and one particularly green and mossy section of woods.
green moss
By the time I had made it back to the Chimneys Trail, the hikers were out in full force. There were lots of people and families out taking advantage of the pleasant winter weather.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Oconaluftee River Trail

After driving down from the mountains, and a quick and slippery walk to Mingus Mill, we found ourselves at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. We explored the exhibits inside and then went outside to check out the Mountain Farm Museum.
on stump
After that we hit the Oconaluftee River Trail.
hiking Oconaluftee River Trail
The trail is a nice easy, mostly level path that extends 1.5 miles from the visitor center to the city limits of Cherokee, North Carolina. It's not the most interesting trail, although there are a few relatively large trees growing along the banks of the river.

A highlight of the hike for Sierra was throwing rocks into the river at a big pebbly beach
throwing rocks
near to where the path passes under the southernmost few feet of the Blue Ridge Parkway. For most of the hike I carried Sierra in the backpack, but as we neared a return to our car, Sierra got out and played "chasing Mommy", by running after Noelle.
hiking back to car
When we returned to the car, we ate some snacks and then made the drive back to Greeneville.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail

It was a much needed family adventure day today. We hit the road early and stopped for breakfast in Newport, before continuing on to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our first stop was a short but pleasant walk on the Sugarlands Valley Nature Trail. We hiked the half mile long trail,
Sierra and mommy walking
stopping frequently to stand on rocks, and
Sierra on rock
look at things like a beetle,
beetle on trail
bear tracks in the hardened concrete walkway, and two old chimneys that are still partially standing along the trail.
Sierra at chimney 1
Sierra at chimney 2

After our hike we continued our visit to the park by driving the Newfound Gap Road. It was Noelle's and Sierra's first time driving the road. There was snow up in the higher elevations and it was interesting to see how the visitors from Florida and Georgia reacted to having snow to play in. We stopped at Newfound Gap
Newfound Gap
and looked around a little bit,
at Newfound Gap
then started to descend down the mountains.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Middle Prong, Greenbrier Ridge, AT, Miry Ridge, Lynn Camp Prong Hike

Noelle gave me permission to head over to the Smokies to do some hiking today, and so I took full advantage of it. On the agenda for the day was a 20.2 mile lollipop starting from the Tremont area of the national park. The drive to the park was uneventful in the pre-dawn darkness. I arrived to a very cold, and nearly empty parking area and hit the trail at 8:00, immediately crossing over Lynn Camp Prong
start of the hike
and its cascading waters.
The Middle Prong Trail is a real joy to walk. I had hiked the lower sections of it back in March of last year. The trail is a wide old road that is easy to walk, and the cascading waters of Lynn Camp Prong are never too far away.
Lynn camp Cascades

I took the side trail over to the old Cadillac
frosty Cadillac
and then continued on past the junction with the Panther Creek Trail.
1st junction
I was happy not to be making the ford of the creek on this cold day! The trail continues on to the site of an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp. All that I could find from the CCC days was a crumbling chimney
CCC camp chimney
and some assorted rusting metal pieces. Shortly after leaving the camp area, at a switchback in the trail, I found a cairn marking the start of the unofficial trail to Indian Flats Falls. Indian Flats Falls is actually a series of 3 waterfalls. The only one that is easily accessible is the upper falls,
Indian Flats Falls
but from the ledge where one views the upper falls, you can get a partial view of the middle section of the falls.
middle Indian Flat Falls

After a short stop at Indian Flats Falls, I headed back to the main trail and continued my ascent up to the Greenbrier Ridge Trail.
2nd junction
As I made my way up Greenbrier Ridge, I made my way into the land of the frosted trees.
curve through the frost
It appears a cold fog flowed over the mountains here, coating every tree, shrub, and plant
frosty vegetation
in shimmering, sugary frosting.  Every now and then a break in the trees offered views of the surrounding mountains.
mountain through the trees
However, I was usually walking among the trees and frost.
another frosty trail shot

When I reached the Appalachian Trail the wind kicked up on the on the exposed ridge.
white junction
It was extremely cold.
very cold hiker
I stopped to eat a quick snack and get a drink of water, but my water bottle was frozen shut.
frozen water bottle
I had to bang it on a tree a few times to break up the ice and open it up. It was not easy to drink the slushy water. Even with the extreme cold, there were lots of great views of frosty trees. The contrast with the bright blue skies made for some great photos.
frosty tree 2
more trail through wonderland
I reached the junction with Miry Ridge and started to descend.
better junction
It was nice to get off of the exposed ridge.

Views on the Miry Ridge Trail, then the Lynn Camp Prong Trail were excellent. There were limited views off to Clingman's Dome, but again the frost covered scenery was very photogenic.
Great Frosty Trail
One attraction was a large yellow birch whose branches split in two. Growing in the crotch of the two branches was a rhododendron bush.
cool tree with frost
The frost covering the branches added to the ambiance. Lynn Camp Prong Trail crossed a few small streams
frosty creek
and started out as a singletrack trail, but at campsite 28 turned into a road.
campsite 28
The road made for quick and easy hiking. It would be all road walk back to the car in Tremont.