Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Baxter Creek - Smoky Mountains

Two days off and Craig had to work. Hooked up with Amy and we headed for the mountains and Big Creek Ranger Station in the GSMNP. There were lots of cars in both parking areas, the campground was still closed. Our trail crossed the creek and went uphill. And up, and up and up. The elevation profile looked almost vertical, from 1700 ft to 5820 ft. 6.2 miles. We saw a few violets blooming and the leaves and buds of trilliums. This trail is filled with ferns and moss. And some of the rocks were covered with really large lichens. We did see a few huge trees. Then we really started climbing. We saw a huge rock that looked inviting for a lunch spot but two guys with chain saws had the best seats so we kept going until we found another sunny spot. Then we really started climbing. We had a view of the valley below, looked for the power plant, only saw a tower. We did see a HUGE chestnut stump and some giants that had fallen. Higher up we started seeing red spruces. There were blackberry briars further up but I don’t think I would want to do this climb when it’s hot enough for the berries to be ripe! We kept thinking we were at the top and the trail would turn and we kept climbing. We met some folks coming down the mountain. One man and 3 young ladies from Indiana on their first backpack ever. And they picked this trail, and it rained on them last night. They were still so happy to be there and I find that very cool. They said they would definitely be back.

 Then we really started climbing. We passed the trail to the water source and knew we were near the camp. The Firetower greeted us at the top. We looked around for a flat spot to set up our tents, most areas are somewhat slanted except at the tower and that spot was taken. We set up and then climbed the tower. The views were incredible. Thankful for clear skies. We hiked back .2 miles to the water trail. We found a small stream, where it was running over and down a rock Amy started collecting water. I hiked on down to find the pipe. It was a trickle. The better source was where Amy stopped. Back at camp the wind had picked up. And then it howled, and howled, and ……we cooked our supper, potato soup for Amy and pinto beans with roast beef for me. We decided against building a fire in the howling wind and walked up to warm up at our neighbor’s fire. The sparks and smoke chased us around for the few minutes that we could stand it. We gave up and went back to camp. We were going to hang our food at the bear cable but there was a tree laying on it and only one cable was usable. And it was being used. We found a limb for our food bag, tied the rope to a stick and the fun started. I made a half dozen efforts. Makes me remember playing ball with my nephew when he was 5 and telling me “Aunt Lora you throw like a girl” so Amy tried tossing the stick over and got it on her first try! Unfortunately the rope wouldn’t pull over the spur in the limb. Back to the start, a few more tosses and picking the line out of the bushes and it finally went over in just the right spot. We just hoped the wind wouldn’t take it down. Bed time. Couldn’t tell if we had any wildlife visitors or owls talking thru the night. I had to use earplugs to block out the howling noise. The little brown book says this is one of the highest campsites in the park, and I believe the coldest because of the wind.  

Up early next morning, wind was still blowing. But the sun was shining! We broke camp and started across the ridge on the Mt Sterling Trail to the connection with Mt Sterling Ridge Trail. It’s a beautiful ridge walk. We went down the Swallow Fork Trail and Amy found it much more pleasant this time. Last time she walked up it in cold rain. We had some beautiful views from this trail and lots of streams. We also ran into several hikers, one that we thought was a news guy from the network political scene. When we started down the Big Creek trail we saw the devastation from storms. So many trees had come down from the tornado last year it must have taken weeks for the chainsaw crews to get thru here. As we got closer to the campground we started seeing lots more folks on the trail. This is a beautiful creek trail. It will be full of blooms in the next week or two. We saw some of the yellow trilliums opening in the sunshine. The parking lot was full again. This is spring break week for a lot of schools and the young people were out in force. Good to see so many young people out on the trails. Back on the road, I took Amy to her car in Crossville, she headed to Nashville and I headed home.

Beautiful trails and a great time in the mountains.


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