Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Appalachian Trail: White Rock Cliffs Area Hike

One last beautiful fall day was forecast for today and so Noelle, Sierra and I set out to enjoy the nice weather before the cold sets in. Noelle wanted to stay close to home and so we drove up Viking Mountain to hike around Camp Creek Bald. We started on the blue-blazed side trail that leads from near the old resort site to the Appalachian Trail and headed south on the AT. Pretty quickly we ended up at a nice overlook of Shelton Laurel at White Rock Cliffs.
Noelle at White Rock Cliff
From the cliffs we returned to the AT and hiked through the bare trees.
hiking in the woods
We stopped at the junction of yet another blue-blazed side trail where we ate a nice snack and enjoyed the fine weather.

After nourishing ourselves we walked the blue blazes to the road that leads through Jones Meadow and the site of the old Viking Mountain Resort. We explored the old resort site for a bit and then returned to the car for the drive down the mountain and back into Greeneville. It was a short, but enjoyable hike!   

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Speedway in Lights 5K at Bristol Motor Speedway

This evening I ran my slowest 5K ever. It was all in good fun though. Noelle and I signed up for the Speedway in Lights 5K knowing that with an Sierra gawking at Christmas lights we would not be able to run very fast. We ran, but mostly we looked at the lights and swerved around other gawkers. I have to admit that this was the most unusual race I've ever "run' in. Someone was smoking at the starting line and there was a prayer before the race started.
pre tace
Mommy and Sierra
Daddy and Sierra

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Cove Mountain Trail and Laurel Falls Trail

Just six days ago I hiked the Rainbow Falls Trail up to Mount LeConte on a beautiful 66 degree day. The sun was shining and warm and there were lots of other hikers enjoying the last days of autumn at over 6,500 feet. What a difference just a few days makes. On Halloween a storm and cold front moved over the mountains bringing snow, and lots of it (22 inches on the summit of LeConte). I decided that I wanted to go hiking in the snow.

Instead of switching the time on my clocks, I decided that I would rise at my normal adventuring time of 6 am, even though with the time change, this would mean I actually woke at 5 am. I fed and walked Parker and got my stuff ready for the drive over to the Smokies. Last night I had checked the Smokies Road Report and found that there were not many roads open. My plan was to drive to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. If the Newfound Gap Road was open I would hike a lollipop route off of that road. Since I found the road not open when I had arrived, I decided to instead hike the Cove Mountain Trail up to the summit of Cove Mountain. I would then follow the Laurel Falls Trail down to the Little River Road and walk the road back to my car.

I started off on the nature trail that leads over to Cataract Falls.
I crossed over the creek below the falls and headed off on a trial whose sides were lightly dusted with snow.
on the trail
Soon enough I came to a small cascade fed by a little stream.
small cascade
The sun started to burn off the morning fog and the glowing sunlight gave the few remaining leaves on the trees a nice warm look.
colors and snow 2
sun through frosty trees
The Cove Mountain Trail closely follows the park boundary, and so there were a few times when the trail practically wound through people's backyards.

As I ascended the snow steadily grew deeper.
snow getting deeper
The yellow sassafras and red maple leaves
leaves on snow
contrasted nicely with the thick, white snow. Every now and then I could catch a view of the surrounding, white-capped mountains through the trees.
mountain thru frost trees
At a short side trail that led into a neighborhood of pricy homes, the snowpack got considerably thicker. So thick, in fact, that I decided to put on my gaiters in an attempt to keep my pants dry. The snow on the branches of the conifers reminded me of being in the mountains out west, but the beauty of the deciduous forest, still clinging to a few leaves, reminded me I was close to home.

The higher I got, the deeper the snow got. It its deepest it had to have been 10 inches.
hiking in deep snow
In certain areas the trees were covered, not by snow, but rime that had frozen to each twig and branch and left the trees looking like they were covered with crystalline sugar.
winter wonderland
Soon the trail paralleled a road.
trail sign
It was a road that I had presumed (correctly) led to the tower on the summit of Cove Mountain. Sure enough I soon found myself at the tower.
Cove mountain Tower
I climbed the tower, but you cannot ascend very high as it is used as an air quality monitoring station. The highest point offered no views of the surrounding mountains like I had hoped it would.

I backtracked a short distance to the intersection with the Laurel Falls Trail
trail junction
and started my descent. I had been pretty lucky on the Cove Mountain Trail. Even though the weight of the snow had weighed down some of the tree and rhododendron branches, it was pretty easy to bypass them. However, the situation on the Laurel Falls Trail was different. It was tough work climbing over, under and around all the snow laden branches and blowdowns. I did see at least one big tree off to the side of the trail,
big tree
but overall the first 3/4 of the trail were unspectacular. I was quite tired when I could hear the first sounds of people hiking to Laurel Falls.

Laurel Falls itself was a zoo. I would later learn that almost all of the park was still closed except for the Little River Road to a point just past Laurel Falls. Everyone who wanted to get out and enjoy the park from Gatlinburg was headed to the same spot! I took a quick photo of the waterfall
Laurel Falls
and headed down to the road on the paved, but slick snow-covered path. There were a few nice views through the trees.
view from Laurel Falls Trail
I reached the road and made my way down walking against traffic. There were a few pulloffs that offered nice views,
distant mountain view (2)
but I was really glad to be back to the car and finished with the dangerous road walk. Even from the parking lot there was a nice view of the high mountains.      
parking lot view

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mount LeConte via Rainbow Falls Trail

Okay, I admit it. I am obsessed. Not to sound like a broken record, but it was yet another beautiful fall day and so I just had to get out for a hike. Today I would be headed to what I think might be my most favorite spot in all of the Volunteer State: Mount LeConte. I have hiked up LeConte twice before. The first time was back in 2006 when Noelle and I hiked up the Alum Cave Trail. Then, back in February, I hiked up via the AT and the Boulevard. Today I would make a grand loop by hiking up the Rainbow Falls Trail and down the Bullhead Trail.

I arrived to a somewhat empty parking lot at a little after 8:45. I used the restroom, gathered my gear and then hit the trail. There was a bear warning posted at the trailhead,
bear warning
but I would not see a bruin, or even any evidence of them, on the trail. It is starting to get past peak for the fall foliage even in the lower elevations now. There were lots of leaves down on the trail.
The hike started off by closely paralleling LeConte Creek past lots of small cascades.
leConte Creek 2
Soon I came to a small waterfall.
small waterfall
Could this be Rainbow Falls? Of course, it was not. A short time after my little "False Rainbow Falls" I found myself at the real thing.
Rainbow Falls
Even though there was not much water flowing down, it was still impressive in a large amphitheater of rock. I ate a snack at the falls and then continued on up the trail.

Soon I came to the site where a large tree had lain across the trail. Sawyers had removed the portion of the trunk which blocked the trail and someone had done a little dendrochronology and counted the rings. They marked off increments of ten rings for a total of over 270 of them.
270 year old tree
That is one old tree! It's too bad it did not survive any longer. Not only was there plenty of lingering fall color on the trail, I also spied the very last of the season's wildflowers. There was a little bit of aster, goldenrods, and this blue flower in bloom in a few places along the trail.
last flowers

I continued to ascend up the trail,
Eric on Trail (2)
gaining about 4,000 feet in elevation. That is an impressive amount of altitude gain for an eastern mountain! I eventually arrived at the signed Rocky Spur Overlook
Rocky spur sign
which led out to a heath-covered section where the first spruces and firs shown themselves.
mountain views
There were nice views out over the lowlands below and the monstrosities that are Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
looking down on Gatlinburg
From certain vantage points I could even get a glimpse of yesterday's destination: Brushy Mountain. After another short break and snack, I continued on to the summit.

Soon the ecosystem started to change a bit. There were still deciduous trees, but the rocky path wound through a largely coniferous forest.
stony trail
At one point a tree just off to the side of the tree had blown over and erosion had washed a deep (about 5 feet) rut into the trail.
huge washout
There was a precarious ledge one could use to skirt around the deep pit, but I would hate to be the hiker who fell into that thing. Shortly after the "Bottomless Pit" I found myself at the junction with the Bullhead Trail for the last .6 mile to Mt LeConte.
Bullhead junction

Before I knew it I was at LeConte Lodge,
LeConte lodge
arguably one of the most interesting places to spend the night in the Eastern US. I headed straight for the porch of the office where I relaxed on one of the rocking chairs
view from office porch
and struck up some conversation with a hiker from Kingsport, TN. The view from the porch was lovely and the temperature was perfect.
view from porch
The thermometer on the wall read 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
over 60 degrees
After eating a snack I headed over to the dining hall to photo document this trip's date.
sign on dining room
I then moved on to visit the actual summit of the mountain.

It was a quick jaunt over to the large summit cairn. I snapped another photo of myself standing next to it
on summit
and then headed back towards the lodge. The views from the trail here were pretty nice,
mountainside trail
1st great view
another mountain view (2)
but I still opted to head over to Cliff Top to see the view from there. I would not be alone in admiring the view from the lofty perch.
folks relaxing at cliff top
After a few minutes I decided to move on. I headed back to the rocky trail
rocky trail
through the piney-scented forest of spruce and fir and began my descent. I was sad to say goodbye to this remarkable place. This is the one place in the southeast that I think feels the most like the way I think a mountain should feel. Even though there is a lodge on top, it doesn't seem (at least not to me) to detract from the setting. The mountain views are remarkable and the smell of the air is unforgettable. Still, I was not a guest at the lodge and I had to get back home to feed and walk Parker.

The hike down the Bullhead Trail went pretty quickly. There were not as many views as I had expected on this trail and so not much of a reason to stop. The trail bed itself is one of the more remarkable aspects of the trail. It is carved into the side of the mountain creating the feeling of hiking along a cliff in many areas.
headed down
One of the other interesting sites is a stone cairn that I have heard referred to as "The Pulpit". It was supposedly built by the CCC during the Great Depression. I photographed myself standing on it
on pulpit
and then continued on my descent. Eventually I arrived at an interesting rock shelter which looked like an interesting spot to wait out a rain storm.

At the end of the Bullhead Trail I was surprised by the sight of an NPS pickup truck parked at the junction with the Old Sugarlands Trail.
NPS truck
I was even more surprised by the two man lounging in the back of it when I passed. I continued on the Old Sugarlands Trail, which is a closed gravel road, through some of the last remaining foliage still on the trees,
lady hiking
and back to the car.