It was a solo hiking day today. I got an early start and hit the road a little bit after 5 am. I made the drive through Newport, east into North Carolina, through Maggie Valley, along the Blue Ridge Parkway and into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After a stop to observe an elk and the sunrise, I was at the trailhead in 2 hours. I put on my hiking boots and hit the trail in fog and generally dark skies.
The first part of the Hemphill Bald Trail followed an old logging railroad grade and offered extremely easy hiking. As I moved on the lighting changed drastically.
The trail along the boundary with Cataloochee Ranch was a bit overgrown. There were lots of wildflowers like white snakeroot, goldenrod,
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has acquired a conservation easement for the summit, which sits on Cataloochee Ranch Property.
After a snack, I reluctantly moved on. It was a short hike to the junction of the Cataloochee Divide Trail. I, however, would be staying on the Hemphill Bald Trail for a bit longer. The trail started a long descent through the woods. There was not a whole lot to look at for a while.Then, all of a sudden, a huge Northern red oak tree appeared in front of me.
Rough Fork started with a steep ascent, but soon joined the bed of an old logging railroad.