Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cherokee National Forest: Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail

After yesterday's long drive and hike, I opted for a hike a little bit closer to home and one that would be a bit shorter. I decided that the Pinnacle Mountain Trail up to the fire tower fit the bill perfectly. I made the quick drive over to Erwin, headed north on I-26 for a few miles and exited near the town of Unicoi for my hike up to the tower.

The trailhead is located at Jack Snider Park,
Jack Snider Park sign
a Unicoi Town Park with a picnic area.
The trail starts into pleasant woods and gently starts to ascend. 
pleasant trail
There were some pretty big trees along the lower portions of trail and lots of wildflowers in bloom
including a pink lady slipper.
pink lady slipper
There were also lots of American chestnuts,
though they were all stunted little shrubs due to the Chestnut Blight. At about the halfway point of the ascent there is a nice view out across the "Valley Beautiful" to Unaka Mountain.
Unaka Mountain View
As far as wildlife, I saw a few centipedes
and many caterpillar-like larvae.

The climb never really got all that difficult, though there were a few short, steep sections. Before I knew it I was at the Pinnacle Fire Tower.
Pinnacle Fire Tower
There is a large, concrete C6 embedded in the ground near the base of the tower.
I'm assuming this is so the tower could be identified from the air. I climbed to the top to find two others enjoying the view. I ate a snack there and took some photos before heading back down to the car.
Eric at Tower
The trip back to the car was uneventful, though there were many more people out on the trail now, enjoying the beautiful weather.                

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beyond 6,000 in the Great Balsam Mountains

It was an early wake up this morning. I got up at 5:15, fed and walked Parker, and then hit the road. It would be a long 2 hour drive into the Great Balsam Mountains off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I arrived around 8 am, but found a parking lot already full with people parked all along the road, even in places that were clearly marked "No Parking". Yes, today's hike featured very pretty scenery, as well as lots of people.

I started the hike by making my way through a large group of boy scouts that were loitering near the trailhead. I quickly turned onto the Art Loeb Spur Trail and ascended up to the main Art Leob Trail where the views were already amazing.
Eric overlooking Sam Knob
I stopped at a rock outcrop to admire the view and then moved on to my first peak-bagging objective for the day: Black Balsam Knob.
Art Loeab rock
There were lots of tents scattered around on the grassy ridgeline,
grassy campsite
including very near to the summit of Black Balsam. I stood on the small exposed rock outcrop that marked the summit, but with all the tents around I did not bother to photo document my conquest. I did notice an unusual little shrine set up near the summit though.
offerings on summit of Black Balsam

After a moment on the summit it was time to move on. The views remained spectacular due to the lack of tree coverage.
vista east
This lack of trees is not a natural phenomenon here. These mountains were logged extensively in the past and evidence of the logging operations could be found in the form of a cable exposed on the trail in a few locations.
It was a quick walk over to Tennent Mountain where I photographed the summit plaque
Tennent Mountain Summit
and checked out the view near the summit.
Eric near Tennent Summit
Then I headed further north towards my next objective Grassy Cove Top.
heading north
hiker headed to Grassy Cove Top

Just before arriving at the base of Grassy Cove Top, the trail enters into the Shining Rock Wilderness.
Shining Rock Wilderness
The trails got a little bit confusing upon entering into the wilderness and I found myself on an old section of the Art Loeb Trail that was conveniently labeled as eroded.
Obvious Erosion
I found the relocated, new trail and made my way around the east side of Grassy Cove Top's Summit. At the north end of the relocation, I followed the old Art Loeb Trail south up to the summit of Grassy Cove Top. It's just a small rock off to the side of the trail.
Grassy Cove Top Summit
I took a photo and then moved on.

Soon my next objective came into view: Shining Rock with its line of exposed white quartz that seems to shine in the sunlight.
Shining Rock
I descended through wonderful scenery to Shining Rock Gap.
view west

another view west
Shortly after passing through the gap I found a trail leading to the right. I figured this to be the Old Butt Knob Trail. however, the trail was quite overgrown and the area it led into was a maze of social trails or "manways" as they are called in these parts. I picked my way through the maze and eventually found myself standing on a large boulder of snow quartz;
Snow Quartz
one of the two summit blocks of Shining Rock.
near summit
I ate a snack sitting on the cool rock and was soon joined by a group of boys from Durham. They soon moved on to the other summit and shortly after I tagged the second summit as well. I then headed back to the Art Loeb Trail via a better maintained trail.

I followed the Art Loeb Trail south for a bit to Shining Rock Gap. Here I left the Art Loeb and followed the Ivestor Gap Trail Instead.
Ivestor Gap Trail
This trail is actually an old road and hiking it was extremely easy and went very fast. There were limited views off to the west every now and then,
looking back
another Sam Knob view
but generally the scenery on the Ivestor Gap Trail was not nearly impressive as on the Art Loeb. Before I knew it I was back at the parking lot. My hike, however, was not finished yet. I still wanted to hike over to a fifth and final 6,000 footer for the day: Sam Knob.

I had gotten lots of great views of Sam Knob throughout my hike, finally I would ascend it. The start of the Sam Knob Trail was level and easy, another old road I believe. Then the trail descended a steep rutted section into a meadow with an imposing view of Sam Knob.
Sam knob Trail
The trail traversed the meadow and then headed into the woods for an ascent of Sam Knob. The hiking wasn't too difficult. There were lots of flowers in bloom,
cherry flowers
3 violets
rhododendron in bloom
twin trillium
but not much in the way of views until I reached the summit area. There are actually two summits to Sam Knob and I touched both of them, starting with the north summit. This summit features a wonderful view from a rock outcrop near a steep drop-off.
near North Summit of Sam Knob
I lounged there for a bit and then headed over to the south summit. From the south summit I retraced my steps back through the meadow
Leaving Sam Knob
and then back to a very crowded parking lot and road.                              

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Greeneville's Creation Nature Trail

The good news is that there is now a hiking trail, within the town limit of Greeneville, on which you can walk with a dog! Now for the bad news.
  • There just isn't much to see along the trail. 
  • Lots of invasive plants like bush honeysuckle and English ivy.
  • Constant signs featuring christian religious messages. 
Still, it is nice to be able to go for a short drive and go for a hike with Parker. When we moved to Greeneville and I looked on Google maps, I saw Forrest Park and had assumed that there must be some kind of hiking trail in those dark green woods. There was not when we moved here but there is now! 

Today Noelle, Sierra and the extended family headed over to the park to enjoy the nice weather. We parked at Forrest Park (soon to be renamed Veteran's Park) and hit the trail.
Forrest Park
Sierra and Daddy on Trail
I had read a story about the trail in the Greeneville Sun that described the trail as moderately hilly. I have to admit the trail was a bit more strenuous than I had anticipated.
Mom on Trail
It wasn't a problem for me or anyone else in my group, but I would imagine the walk could be tough for some hikers. There are plenty of benches to rest on though!
The trail was mostly wide as it had been created by bulldozer. There was one section of trail however, that got very narrow.

There was a sign for the Andrew Johnson Overlook which we took a spur trail to.
It turned out to not offer much of a view. You could see just a small portion of the National Cemetery through the trees. We hiked the 1.1 mile loop
Noelle on trail
and then spent some time resting in the grass in Forrest Park.
Leah and Sierra
The most annoying part of the trail was the many signs referring to god and faith, etc. I have no problem whatsoever with people participating in faith-based activities. However, I prefer that my local government not spend my tax dollars to promote religion and not allow public spaces to be billboards for special interests. Still, it is nice to be able to go for a hike, on a nice dirt trail, through shady woods, close to home.