Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Mount Sterling Loop

My last day in the Smokies. I packed up a wet camp this morning and drove south to Big Creek. From there I hiked on an old railroad grade along the beautiful Big Creek.
Big Creek
Lots of water flowed over rocks and made me wonder if people ever kayak the creek in high water flows. I caught a quick glimpse of Mouse Creek Falls
and continued along the creek until I reached the junction with the Swallow Fork Trail.

The Swallow Fork Trail climbs pretty steeply and the going seemed a bit slow. When I finally reached the Mount Sterling Ridge Trail the drizzle seemed to stop and the sun poked through the clouds a bit.
When I got to Mount Sterling itself
benchmark MS
I climbed up the somewhat scary looking tower
Eric at Tower
and got some decent views.
Then I descended the Baxter Creek Trail into some great wildflowers. There was Trillium in bloom, more trout lillies, and even some Dutchmen's Breeches. The hiking down to Big Creek was pretty fast, that is except for when I stopped to look at the flowers.

When I got back to the car, I headed over to I-40 and drove east into North Carolina. Tomorrow I will attempt to conquer the highest point east of the Mississippi: Mount Mitchell. I stopped in Asheville for a quick dinner, then back onto I-40 to US-70 and state route 80. I should have planned out this portion of the trip better, because I had a difficult time figuring our where the Black Mountain Campground was. When I finally found it, it was not yet open for the season. I pitched my tent by a river just outside the campground and settled in for the night.

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