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.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Lower Miry Ridge and Blanket Mountain Manway via Jakes Creek Trail

My first Smokies hike of 2016. I managed to make the drive without getting a speeding ticket like the last time I hiked in the Smokies. I arrived at the Jakes Creek Trailhead a little bit after 8am for my hike up to Miry Ridge Trail. I hit the trail and passed through the old, abandoned vacation homes. I noticed a foundation that I don't recall seeing before
and a few interpretive signs that I don't think had been installed the last time I visited.
special house
Soon I left Elkmont behind and followed the Jakes Creek Trail (a road really)
road hike
higher in elevation.

I had a very short section of new trail that I needed to hike between the junction with the Cucumber Gap Trail and the junction with the Meigs Mountain Trail. The trail signs in the area state that the section is .1 mile,
Meigs Jakes junction
but it doesn't even seem to be that long. The lower portions of the trail never wander too far from Jakes Creek and there were lots of views of cascading waters.
jakes Creek
Soon the road ended, I crossed a log bridge and followed a more traditional dirt path. I made my way onto the Miry Ridge Trail and noticed a few patches of ice in a few sections.
Most of the Miry Ridge Trail was a hike through rhododendron, but soon enough the vegetation opened up a bit and there were views out to the surrounding mountains.
mountains from highpoint of Miry Ridge

At the crest of the Miry Ridge Trail I found a faint manway and followed it and bushwhacked to the summit of Dripping Springs Mountain.
at summit of Dripping Spring
With no views from the summit, I quickly returned to resume my walk on the Miry Ridge Trail.
hike on ridge
Soon I found myself at the day's turnaround point, the junction with Lynn Camp Prong Trail.
I sat on a log near the trail junction and ate a snack, then I turned around for the return trip. The wind was really starting to whip up on the Ridge and I had to stop to put my hat and mittens back on. Things would warm up a bit as I got off of the ridge.

As I approached the intersection with the Panther Creek Trail I could see my next destination through the trees: Blanket Mountain.
Blanket Mtn thru trees
There is not an official trail to the summit of Blanket Mountain. Instead, there is an old trail, now considered to be a manway, that leads to the top. I made my way through an illegal campsite at the trail junction
start of manway
and headed into the woods.
ready for manyway
At first I could find no sign of the supposedly obvious manway, but soon enough I found it. It was pretty clear, with just a few blowdowns and overgrown rhododendron to dodge on the ascent.

At the summit of Blanket Mountain is the site of an old firetower and lookout's cabin. There's not much left, just the concrete foundations of the tower
foundation (2)
and a toppled chimney from the cabin.
fallen chimney
Still, it was an interesting site and I'm glad I made the 1.4 mile roundtrip effort. Once I left the summit of Blanket Mountain, the rest of my hike was all downhill. I made fast time, and did not stop to take photos. I was back to the car pretty quickly.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pisgah National Forest: Log Hollow Falls and "Kissing Falls"

Today was "Daddy Appreciation Day aka DAD" due to my upcoming birthday. I decided I wanted to head over to North Carolina to have a beer and go for a hike. Sierra Nevada's tasting room is closed for a few days, so instead we headed over to Brevard to have a beer at Oskar Blues. The CHUBwagon food cart was operating at Oskar Blues so Noelle and I each got a very tasty burger and split some fries. We also had some tasty beers.

After our late lunch we headed into the Pisgah National Forest up past Sliding Rock and the Cradle of Forestry to Forest  Road 475B. We turned left and then wound our way down to a closed Forest Road 5043.
At the gated road was a Forest Service interpretive sign
mgmt sign
and the trailhead for our hike to two waterfalls. We hit the trail immediately.
Sierra and Mommy on the trail
Sierra decided she wanted to walk, but we brought the backpack just in case she got tired. Pretty quickly the trail passed through an open area that is obviously used for camping.
walking through grassy area
Once we headed back into the woods we noticed a lot of large galls growing on the shrubs that lined the trail.
one of many galls

Soon we came to our first waterfall: Log Hollow Falls.
log Hollow Falls
It's a nice cascade just a few short feet off the road. A trail leads closer to it, but the view is not much better than what you can get from the road. After checking out the falls and looking downstream from the bridge,
on bridge
we moved on.
after bridge
At this point Sierra decided that she wanted to run.
running away
She probably ran about a half mile altogether.
the runner
We stopped to admire the waterfall called "Kissing Falls" on the Romantic Asheville website.
Kissing Falls
We even kissed there! Then we turned around to return to the car. Sierra ran a good portion of the way back to the car
still running
and could not decided whether or not to wear her mittens. At one point her hands got cold enough that she decided to wear them.
putting on mittens
It was a long drive back to Greeneville, but we had a wonderful day!