Sunday, February 7, 2016

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: The Chimney Tops and Road Prong

Today I hiked one of the most popular trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had hiked to the Chimney Tops before, but the last time was almost 10 years ago! Needless to say, I didn't remember too much about the previous hike. However, having hiked it again it is obvious why it is such a popular trail. I needed to fill in blank spot on my map; the Road Prong Trail, and since I would be hiking a portion of the Chimney Tops Trail to get to Road Prong, I figured I might as well hike the extra 2.2 miles roundtrip to see the view from the Chimney Tops.

The hike started off with lots of water
1st crossing
and bridges for crossing the water.
bridge over water
crossing bridge
There's cascading water all over the place in this section of the park!
cascade
another creek shot
The trail closely follows stream and then starts to ascend steeply utilizing well-built stone and wood stairs.
nice stairs
Eventually the trail ascends to a wonderful overlook of the surrounding mountains.
view of mountains
However, the climb is not over at this point, just around a bend in the trail another overlook offers a view of the ultimate destination for the hike: the Chimney Tops (or at least one of them)!
Chimney
The final section of "trail" is one of the most exposed in the park.
Chimney Top
It's actually a scramble up slippery, exposed rock. I carefully scrambled up this last section and found a nice perch on top in which to bask in the sun for a bit.
relaxing on summit

The view is impressive in that high mountains completely encircle the Chimneys.
view from Chimney Tops
I relaxed and enjoyed the view for a bit before scrambling back down to the base for my hike back to the junction with the Road Prong Trail.
junction
I stopped to watch an ant-like climber make his way up the rock.
climber on Chimney Top
The trail up Road Prong had a much different feeling than the well-traveled Chimney Tops Trail. It was much narrower and not as smooth. Fallen trees blocked the path in a few places. There were lots of cascades on the trail's namesake Road Prong. There were even two that were high enough to be considered waterfalls.
icy cascade

At times the trail followed Road Prong itself. The icy water was higher than normal levels due to recent snow melt. Exposed rocks were coated with an icy glaze. I opted to wear my microspikes for the stream crossings. The highest portions of the trail were rocky
rocky trail
with patches of snow.
snow walker
Soon I found myself at an intersection with both the Appalachian Trail
AT junction
and the Clingman's Dome Road. I rested in the sun there, read the roadside interpretive panel,
Indian Gap Road sign
and ate a snack before turning around to make my way back to the car. The return hike went fast. Stopped to admire some of the frost flowers that decorated the trailside
ice needles
and one particularly green and mossy section of woods.
green moss
By the time I had made it back to the Chimney Tops Trail, the hikers were out in full force. There were lots of people and families out taking advantage of the pleasant winter weather.

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