Monday, May 9, 2016

Hazel Creek - Smoky Mountains

Day One: 5.0
AT to Silers Bald

Day Two: 15.0
Welch Ridge trail
High Top trail
Cold Springs Gap Trail
Hazel Creek Trail

Day Three: 8.0
Hazel Creek Trail
Welch Ridge Trail

Day Four: 5.0
AT to Clingman's Dome
Total Miles: 33

We left straight from Nick's graduation party to Clingman's Dome. The road had opened that afternoon and when we got there it was thirty eight degrees and three to four inches of snow on the ground. Just another Outcast type of start. It was five pm.

The walkway to the lookout tower was packed down ice to make for an exciting climb. We passed the volunteer ranger and he said that he had seen between thirty and forty thru hikers today. We never even though about them going through this late.

When we got on the AT, the first critters we saw were mice scurrying across the trail. I guess they were looking for bread and milk. When we passed the Double Springs shelter there were lots of hikers and two tents set up. We passed one more on the trail, who was suffering from a tooth ache. He told us that there were at least ten people at the Siler Bald shelter. We decided to make camp before the shelter.

Day Two:
The next morning we headed down the Welch Ridge trail. We hiked from snow, to early Spring, to late Spring as we descended in elevation. On this hike we saw every kind of Spring flower they make. Lora even got to see a wild hog which took off down the mountain side.

We took the side trail to High Rocks where there used to be a fire tower, which is just a wonderful view of Fontana lake and a keepers cabin is still standing. We explored the cabin and ate lunch enjoying the view.

We took a break at the Cold Spring Gap trailhead, where I dug up a salamander from the leaves. This trail is nothing but rocks. A lot of it looks just like a creek bed including the water. It is in the most beautiful area of the park. We had a couple of creek crossings before we got to the big one at Hazel Creek. It was knee deep and about twenty feet wide.

When we got to the Hazel creek trail we went South to campsite #83 which had about seven tents set up with fishermen everywhere. After taking a break we headed up to campsite #82 on Hazel Creek for the night which we enjoyed all alone. When we got to camp, there were five turkeys in camp heading up the hill side.

We enjoyed the campsite and creek while we ate dinner and took cough medicine. I did manage somehow to hear an owl over the noise of the creek sometime in the night. We left our tarps off and watched the stars.

Day Three:
After our fifteen mile day yesterday, we took it easy with an eight mile day today. We climbed the mountain and crossed Hazel Creek about a dozen times. The weather was warm and the creek felt good. Beautiful trail! There is a horse coral set up just before the trail turns from road bed to trail and the only bridge over Hazel Creek.

You really earn that last mile of trail going up to Welch Ridge. We set up camp the same place as our first night. Tonight the black bear came walking up towards our camp. We saw him about the same time as he saw us. He turned and ran back down the mountain.

During the night, I got woke up by Lora screaming my name. She had heard something walking just uphill from our hammocks. I guess it was as scared as I was, because I didn't see anything when I got up. We did get to listen to more owls after that.

Day Four:
We got up and continued our hike up Clingmans mountain. As we got close we started seeing hikers again and squirrels. We had not seen anyone except the fishermen since we left the AT. Beautiful hike.

Flowers we saw: Trillium; Red, Large flowered, Painted, Bent; Columbine, Foamflower, May apples, Anemone, Trout Lily, Blue Bead lily, Canada Mayflower, Mandarin Fairybells, Indian Cucumber root, Spring Beauty, Rattlesnake Plantain, Wild Geraniums, Bluets, Solomon Seal and False, Bellwort, Wild oats, Toothwort, Brook Lettuce, Squaw Root, Dutchmans Britches, Squirrel Corn, Dwarf Crested Iris, Violets: Pale white, Blue, Long spurred; Umbrella Leaf, Smooth Meadow Parsnip-purple and yellow, and a few different buttercups. Witch hazel was blooming and Mountain Laurel had started blooming.


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