Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Steam Enging Search

Dad and I headed out to find the Orr and Sembower ‘Prospecting’ hoist steam engine and boiler. The Westfeldt Copper prospect mine that opened in 1889, shut down in 1901 over a lawsuit, and reopened again from 1942-1944 used it. The engine hoisted men and ore from the exploratory copper mine that was sunk at a 45-degree angle and went 110 feet underground.

We got the location off some paperwork from 1992 that gave the location, which is on the North side of a branch of the Haw Gap Branch River.

Once again my Dad wanted to prove to me that I was just a flat land hiker. And once again he succeeded. I don't think that Dad has ever read an elevation chart. In his words "You have to get there anyway and it's going to be either up hill or down."

We started the hike at Cades Cove by taking the Anthony Creek trail 3.5 miles and gained 1800 feet elevation. We then took the Bote Mountain trail 2 miles to the AT gaining another 1500 feet. We ate lunch at Spence Field and then took the AT a half mile gaining 300 feet to the Jenkins Valley Ridge trail. This was the last we saw of any hikers.

The Jenkins Ridge trail is a less used trail, which is a little over grown. We took it 5.5 miles with some major ups and downs to Woodward Knob. As you descend down 400 feet to cross Gunna Creek, which is a tributary to Eagle Creek, you can see Fontana Lake in the distance. From the creek you climb back up 300 feet and cross the ridge at Haw Gap which is an over grown Bald. From Haw Gap you descend 700 feet steeply down with no switchbacks followed by a 200-foot steep climb to Cherry Knob. We found a lot of damage along this section by Hogs and some relatively new bear scat. As we rounded Cherry Knob we came eye to eye with a large Hog. Guessing his weight at close to 300 pounds, he carried it very well as he took off across the side of the mountain. As usual, my speed at drawing the camera was insufficient and I didn’t get a picture.

We dropped another 600-foot elevation and climbed 150 to get to the old trail that is unmarked just before Woodward Knob. As I was looking over the cliff knowing that we would never return if we went over the edge, Dad found the trail. It has a lot of trees down over the trail and it drops steeply 700 feet to our destination.

When we got to the bottom we found that Haw Gap Branch River and the tributaries are heavily overgrown with Rhododendron. We started climbing through the Rhododendron growth and decided to stop, go back and set up camp. It was time for dinner anyways. After dinner I crossed the river and climbed the other steep bank. I crossed two more ridges to find Haw Gap River. The entire area was covered with Rhododendron and to skirt it meant going tree to tree hanging on for dear life. I never saw anything in the Rhododendron to give me hope of being an engine. Exhausted, I headed back to camp and we called it a night. After hiking 13 miles up and down and climbing the sides of the mountain, sleep came easy.

The next morning I got up at 6:30 and planned on climbing once again after breakfast in search of the engine. About the time we got camp broke down and breakfast was ready, the rain set in. We finished eating under the tarp and decided to head out. Being a little wore out from the day before; it was a rough climb to Haw Gap. We stopped at Gunna Creek for lunch under a tarp. After lunch we continued our climb back to the AT, down Bote Mountain and Anthony Creek to Cades Cove. I don't know why no one else was hiking in the rain.

The next morning we decided to do a little six-mile hike to stretch out our sore muscles. We headed to Abrams Creek and hiked the Old Cades Cove Road to Cooper Road Trail and back. It helped temporarily until we got back in the van and cramped again. This was a good hike even though we never found what we were looking for. We enjoyed this remote section of the Smokey's and should be able to walk again within a week.


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